GUEST BLOG: Get Woke to Three Accessibility Initiatives! By Lisa Carling

When I was 16 years old, I told my father (who was a Boston physician) that I wanted to be a doctor. “No,” he said, “a woman’s place is not in medical school!” I rebelled, naturally, and went into theatre, acting, divorce, raising a child and TDF where I’ve been happy for over 30 years working in the accessibility field.

It’s a good place to be, combining the opportunity to help others with a love of theatre. I’ve seen a lot of changes! TDF started doing Sign Language Interpreted Performances on Broadway in 1980 before I began; but since then, I’ve had a chance to launch TDF Accessible Performances for Students, 1995; Open Captioned Performances, 1997; Audio Described Performances, 2008 and Autism-Friendly Performances in 2011.

What’s even better now is seeing the industry take a pro-active role in making theatre more accessible for everyone.

If you, a family member or friend have a disability:

  1. Theatre Access NYC is the official website for accessibility information on Broadway, a “one-stop” comprehensive listing to assist theatergoers with disabilities in finding out everything they need to know in choosing a show. TDF launched this 2016 initiative in partnership with The Broadway League. You can search out wheelchair access, assistive listening devices, looping, captioning, audio description, sign language interpreting and autism-friendly performances. Last year, the Theatre Access NYC website saw 18,000 users. Wheelchair seating is the most commonly clicked accommodation filter. Captions come second. Come from Away is the most clicked page listing. Jersey Boys and Waitress are the most frequently used search terms. Check out the website here.

If you want to provide more options:

  1. GalaPro is an audience services app available at any performance that solves “on demand” requests for the individual ticket buyer with hearing loss who needs captioning or any person with vision loss requiring audio description. Periodically scheduled, live, open captioned audio described or sign language interpreted performances are favorites among their targeted audiences, but not convenient for someone who can’t attend when those services are being offered. By downloading the GalaPro app to your mobile device you can follow the show with pre-programmed captioning or pre-recorded audio description. Both services rely on voice recognition technology and sound and light cues for synchronization with the performance. Most Broadway shows now offer GalaPro, and it’s already heading out with several road tours. For more GalaPro information click here. To learn more about TDF Accessibility Programs click here.

If you want to feel like it’s “The Best Day Ever” because there is no other way to describe it:

  1. Autism/Sensory-Friendly, Relaxed Performances: Family friendly productions are easy winners and sure to sell lots of tickets. Shows with more mature content for young adults and older on the autism spectrum can be successful options too, with good preparatory material. Even a production that was at the top of the most requested show list by parents on our autism-friendly performance surveys, that in earlier years we might have felt wasn’t possible due to intense sound and flashing lights, happened! Consider the possibilities.

I’d like to close by sharing with you a remarkable start to TDF’s 8th season of Autism Friendly Performances on Broadway with an unforgettable matinee performance of SpongeBob SquarePants on Sunday, July 15, 2018, at the Palace Theatre. Everyone involved with this production went the extra mile to solve modification concerns and welcome an audience that all too often is judged for being different. From one mom: “It was the first time in nearly 10 years that we were able to attend a show on Broadway as a family” because everyone has the freedom to just be themselves. For a social media recap from cast member Kelvin Moon Loh’s Instagram takeover click here. For more information about TDF, Autism-Friendly Performances click here.

TDF, now in its 50th year of service, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing the power of the performing arts to everyone.  It does this with a variety of programs that expand access, cultivate communities and support theatre-makers. For more information click here.

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LISA CARLING, Director of Accessibility Programs at TDF, helps design and implement services that make theatre performances more accessible to people with disabilities on Broadway, Off-Broadway and nationwide. She runs a department that provides autism friendly, open captioned, audio described and sign language interpreted performances, as well as seating for theatergoers with mobility disabilities. The department assists regional theatres across the country in starting their own captioning and sensory-friendly programming and provides grants through a partnership with New York State Council on the Arts to state cultural organization for captioning events that are open to the public. As a speaker, she shares her experience in the accessibility field on theatre industry panels, at arts and disability conferences, special events such as BroadwayCon and the first-ever Broadway Accessibility Summit. As a consultant, Lisa serves on the Shubert Organization’s Audience Services Advisory Committee for implementation of the audience services app GalaPro that provides captioning and audio description to a theatergoer’s smartphone and sits on the Consumer Advisory Board for Bridge Multimedia’s OSEP Technology Access Project. For fun, in addition to marriage and grandparenting, she is an avid dahlia grower and member of the American Dahlia Association. Lisa holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama.

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