Accessible Performances and Specialized Performances

Why produce an accessible performance or offer a specialized performance?
Creating accessible performances or providing specialized performances is an opportunity to grow your audience, better serve your community, and enact values of inclusivity and equity.

Quick Facts:

  • 1 in 7 people in Ontario have disabilities
  • The consumer market for people with a physical disability that impairs their mobility, vision or hearing currently makes up about $165 billion or 14.3% of the total Consumer market in Canada. By 2030, this share will swell up to 21%, with spending rising to $316 billion annually (in real 2017 dollars). Conference Board of Canada, 2018

Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada, under the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) to mandate and regulate accessibility standards for public and private sectors in all key areas of daily living. The purpose of the act is to make the province accessible for Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. This regulation applies to every person or organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or third parties and that has at least one employee in Ontario.

People with disabilities have a right to access, including the right to enjoy and participate in cultural events.

Types of specialized performances

Relaxed performance

Relaxed performances welcome people of all ages, their families and friends who might otherwise be excluded from a theatrical performance. Included are patrons with an Autistic Spectrum condition, a sensory or communication disorder, a learning disability, or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment. In a relaxed performance, technical elements such as strobe lighting and loud sound cues are reduced and audiences are welcome to make additional noise and come and go as necessary. Another definition for a Relaxed Performance (RP) is an accessibility practice which 'invites bodies to be bodies' in theatre spaces.

Relaxed performance producing resources:

Relaxed Performance: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape a report and downloadable handbook written by Andrea LaMarre, Carla Rice, and Kayla Besse and hosted on BodiesInTranslation.ca
Access Activators facilitate Relaxed Performance training or consultations, using materials developed by British Council. Their website hosts invaluable resources and information for producing a relaxed performance, including downloadable materials and videos.
The British Council Canada YouTube Channel has a 3-part video series on Relaxed Performances that can be accessed in a variety of ways; they have uploaded English-language and French-language versions with closed-captioning (CC) and audio-described (AD), as well as versions in ASL and LSQ.

Roundhouse Interview with Heather Wildsmith, Cultural Development Manager for the National Autistic Society

Mutually accessible performances for Deaf and Hearing audiences

There are a few ways a hearing performance can be interpreted into ASL for patrons who are Deaf, deafened or have hearing loss. Similarly, performances in ASL can be interpreted for hearing audiences in several different ways.

When it comes to integrated theatre practices where collaboration is required between Hearing and Deaf artists using both spoken and signed languages, it takes a lot of time and preparation to ensure full accessibility to both parties. These methods are not mentioned in the infographics below because we are looking at translation between signed languages and spoken languages, but we do have a page on Artist Accessibility and ASL Interpretation that outline these approaches in more detail.

For example, a spoken theatre performance with a sole Deaf character/role may not be an accessible ASL Performance. In the production, the Deaf character is providing some access by using sign language during their role (this can be approached in varied ways), but they are not necessarily responsible for or able to give a Deaf audience full access. Therefore it is important to consider: Will there be interpreters providing access in scenes where the Deaf artist is not present? What, if any, of the content outside of the Deaf actor's scenes will be interpreted to the Deaf audience? By whom or how?

Additional ASL Performance Producing Resources for making Spoken Theatre more accessible):
Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit: an initiative by Cahoots Theatre to include Deaf artists and programming considerations through all aspects of production from initial production meetings to stage.
DATT References: a list of resources and sources for DATT, including artistic sign language, signed performances, signed music, and a list of ASL interpreters (at the bottom of the page)

Picasso PRO & Creative Trust created a A Practical Toolkit For Producers and Presenters of American Sign Language Interpreted Theatrical Performances in 2012. Both pdfs are blind-accessible.
Download Part 1 of the Handbook*
Download Part 2 of the Handbook*
*If the automatic download does not work, try right-clicking the link and opening it in a new tab.

Book an interpreter in the GTA area through Deaf Spectrum using this simple google form.

Check out this awesome training video by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Queer ASL containing basic ASL training of common and helpful signs to know when interacting with d/Deaf audience members and artists.

Infographics and examples

Download our infographic on How to Make Spoken Theatre Accessible for Deaf Audiences by clicking here* (preview below).
*If the automatic download does not work, try right-clicking the link and opening it in a new tab.

Download our infographic on How to Make Sign Language Theatre Accessible for All Audiences by clicking here* (preview below).
*If the automatic download does not work, try right-clicking the link and opening it in a new tab.

Picasso Pro Sweden Residency Workshop Excerpt - Elizabeth + Anna (also features closed captioning and descriptive audio)
Luminato 2017 Promotional Video about Deaf & ASL Accessibility

Audio Described Performance

Audio Description improves access for blind and partially sighted theatregoers by providing a live verbal commentary on the visual elements of a production, broadcast through a receiver. It describes action that is essential to the understanding of the story, as well as information about the set, costumes, facial expressions and visual jokes that might otherwise be missed.

Audio Described performance producing resources:
The The Audio Description Project has compiled all the individual, organization, and corporate services that they know of in Canada that are involved with audio description. Their list includes the organization name, location, type of services offered and contact information.
Vocal Eye has compiled a collection of resources related to description and arts accessibility for people with vision loss.
3PlayMedia Webinar provides an introduction to audio description with helpful graphics and illustrations (read the transcript).

Talking Movement Public Performance Excerpts 2012 - Picasso Pro (also features closed captioning)

Creating an Accessible Space

Remember, making your art accessible goes beyond offering accessible and specialized performances. Check out Audience Accessibility for a list of some (but not all) of the considerations you should make when looking at accessibility for your event/production.


So you’ve organized an accessible/special performance. How do you make sure the community comes out and sees it?


Creative Users Pop-Up Toolkit: Marketing and Communications: An All Access marketing and communications Toolkit to help you market your project!

Created by kpalm. Last Modification: Thursday January 7, 2021 12:35:13 EST by kpalm.