Theatre Development Fund (TDF) is a nonprofit organization that encourages diverse audiences to attend live theater and dance productions. In addition to subsidizing tickets for more than 1,000 plays and musicals, TDF also provides accessibility programs for people with disabilities as part of their commitment to increasing access to theater. On Monday, April 24, 2017, TDF hosted an event called Access for NYC Theatre: Symposiums, Trainings & Grants at The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City.
The morning started off with a welcome address from TDF Executive Director Tory Bailey and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise. One thing that stood out from the address was when Calise reminded us that people with disabilities are just like you and not the “others” as some may perceive. They’re your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends. In fact, there are more than 56 million Americans with disabilities which equates to roughly one in five people in the United States.
Betty Siegel, Director of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC, led the first workshop of the day. She covered best practices in applying Americans with Disabilities Act regulations to your ticket policies. Here are a couple key points: accessible seats may only be released if either the venue is sold out, a price range of tickets is sold out or if a section of seats is sold out. And based on the size of your house, there is a specific amount of accessible seats that needs to be available to theater goers.
Sustainable Audio Description was the final panel I attended. If you’re not familiar with audio description, it allows audience members who are blind or low vision to listen to a description of what is happening on stage during pauses in dialogue. Audio describer Andrea Day and Access4Arts Founder/CEO Ruth Feldman went over the basics of this service, while Evan Hatfield, Director of Audience Experience at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, shared his experience of starting an audio description program at his company. A couple takeaways include the importance of having buy-in from multiple departments and the importance of reaching out to your community to find out which services they prefer.
If you’re interested in learning more about TDF Accessibility Programs, please visit their website. They’re also offering a two-day training for audio describers and a sustainable audio description workshop for arts administrators in May. For live tweets from the Access for NYC Theatre event, search #TDFAccess.