As an artist producer, accessibility isn't just about creating an accessible production and performance space - it's about creating an accessible work environment for the artists involved in your project. Below are some resources and things to consider for a holistic approach to accessibility for artists.
Unsure of whether you need to shift your practice in order to be more inclusive? Ask yourself:
- How do you find/engage your artists? Who is left out of this process?
- Does the technology you use prevent certain artists from engaging or participating in your art?
- Does accessibility currently factor into your budget?
- Does the way you structure your rehearsals prevent certain artists from engaging or participating in your art?
- What are your main methods of communication inside and outside of the rehearsal room? Do you communicate with everyone this way?
- What safety concerns have you (or the artists you've engaged) had in your work? Were those issues addressed? How?
Things to Consider
In addition to the considerations outlined in Audience Accessibility, here are some artist-specific things to think about when you are setting out on a new project:
Creating an accessible work environment will create added costs - in terms of both money and time. Put them into your budget early! Make finding the money and time to create an accessible work environment a priority, as much as you would a key design element. Talk to funders about what resources are available to you, and apply for grants. The Ontario Arts Council has a number of granting programs that were created specifically to meet the needs of artists who are Deaf or have a disability, including Application Support and Project Support.
Some examples of accessibility-related budget line items are: ASL Interpreters, Support Workers, or Transportation. There are standard Fees and Rates for these services, so budget accordingly.
Not everything will be a distinct line item, so go through your budget and consider the difference in cost between each line item (i.e. cost of non-accessible venue vs. accessible venue). If making an aspect of your performance accessible represents a significant deviation from expected cost, explain the reason for this cost disparity in your budget notes.
If you intend to work with ASL interpreters, described audio, support workers, or artists with specific access needs, you will need to account for this in your production and rehearsal schedule. Budgeting time from the start (as opposed to trying to squeeze things in last-minute) will make for a healthier and happier working environment for everyone involved.
Audition & Job Postings
When posting auditions or job offers, language is important. Are you using language that may wittingly or unwittingly discourage people from applying? For example, using biological terminology and gender in casting calls can prevent trans, gnc, and gnb people from engaging with your art. Instead, try stating that all roles are open to all performers, regardless of gender.
Have you included accessibility information in the posting? Are you able to accommodate specific access needs during the audition and interview process? Who can the applicant contact about that?
Sharing the Posting
You may think: "I posted the job, but no one applied!" It may be that the platforms you are posting on are not accessible. Ask yourself: Are the platforms you are posting on easy to navigate for artists with disabilities? Who uses them? Who is unable to?
If you are looking to engage artists from specific disciplines or groups for the first time, you need to seek people out and build relationships! Research resources, networks and platforms that cater to those artists. Research previous productions that worked in inclusive ways with diverse teams. Email artistic directors and agencies. Understand that trust takes time to build.
Consider your intentions when asking artists from specific communities to do work, including outreach, for you. Artists from equity-seeking groups are often asked to provide intellectual and emotional labour without compensation. Be wary of contacting individual artists for a list of names, unless you plan on compensating them. It is important to recognize that the time, effort and energy this takes has value.
If you are inviting artists with specific access needs (see more on ‘Access Needs’ below) to audition, make sure you are meeting those needs on the day. Check out ACTRA's Guide for Auditioning Deaf Actors and make sure your venue is accessible by checking out the list of considerations under Audience Accessibility.
Your contract should be an accessible document that takes into account what you and the artist need to create a safe work environment. If you are engaging an artist with specific access needs, you may want to have a conversation about what they need, and create this agreement together. Try to come prepared with specific considerations and contract stipulations that address what needs you are aware of before your meeting. This will help reduce the labour and time of the artist you plan on engaging (and shows you are already valuing their time and safety). For example, you may provide a consent to release form that includes pronouns and opt-out options when engaging with a trans/gnb/gnc artist.
During the engagement process, it is important to be clear on what you - the engaging company - are responsible for, and what lies outside of your responsibilities or control .
Accessible Websites & Documents
For every project, ensure that all documents, resources and correspondence can be read and reviewed by all the artists you are engaging with ease and clarity. It may be necessary for your contract, script, rehearsal schedule etc. to all be formatted in such a way that allows for assistive and interpretive software to translate the information clearly and accurately. More on creating accessible documents and websites here.
Marketing and Publicity
As the producer, you have responsibilities to the artists you engage - you may be called upon to advocate for them, defend them, and make decisions to keep them safe. The artist-producer relationship is also a collaborative one, and there are lots of ways to make consent a central part of your work. You can agree that no photo of an artist will be posted to social media without their sign-off, involve them in decision-making when it comes to providing photos to the press, and ensure that the language used to speak about them and their accomplishments in the press release and marketing materials is a language that they support. It may seem obvious, but double-check to make sure that everyone’s name is spelled correctly, that folks are gendered correctly, and that everyone’s credits are appearing everywhere they should. These are common media mistakes that can cause harm and are easily avoided.
There may be aspects of your production that require you to be proactive when it comes to your communication with the media. Perhaps you will want to make sure to identify a language that’s being spoken in the production - or perhaps you are making a choice not to. Artists from communities who have been subject to unfair or discriminatory treatment in the press may choose to restrict or limit access to engaging with and critiquing work (see “Why I’m Asking White Critics Not to Review my Show” by Yolanda Bonnell). Consider the ways you as a producer can engage with the media in ways that best support and enable your artistic team to work and perform more safely.
An artist’s identity should not be used as a novelty or as a way to “sell” a show. This is tokenizing and disrespectful: it can have and has had detrimental effects. Have a conversation with your artists about how they wish to be represented in your press material. Ask if they are comfortable sharing their experience. By asking the artists first, they can agree or opt-out without feeling the pressure of needing to educate with their lived experience. In an interview between artist Alice Sheppard and Laura Flanders, they describe it as "the things we didn’t want to talk about". In the interview, Alice says she has set restrictions on what she will or will not talk about, because often certain lines of questioning will set disability up as "a medical situation, something that is wrong, a deficit and something that always has to be accounted for in this kind of personal and narrated way." One way a producer can support artists in controlling their narrative is by helping set artists set terms by which they want to be represented. For example, trans, gnc, and gnb folks have the right to identify as a person with trans experience, and not have their identity or artistic practice be defined by that experience.
It is important when working with trans artists not to out their trans identity to anyone without their permission. Being forced to repeatedly identify oneself as queer, trans, gnc, or gnb is tiring and stressful. The repercussions that can come with having to defend or explain one’s relationship with their gender can be exhausting. Not everyone is out to everyone they know, and as a producer, it is important to support your artists in coming out on their own terms. Find out how your artists want to be represented in the media, in the rehearsal room, and in your production materials. It may differ from space to space.
It is especially important to educate the media and communicate clearly with critics when working with trans, gnc (gender non-conforming) or gnb (gender non-binary) artists. Trans, gnc, and gnb people continue to be misgendered by the press, who in some cases refuse to print accurate information, or display blatant transphobia in their reviews. This is damaging to trans, gnc, and gnb performers. When engaging trans, gnc, and gnb artists, it is your responsibility to advocate for your artists to ensure they are properly represented and protected. Be very clear with the media about your artists’ pronouns. If you are reaching out to reviewers, critics, etc., consider sending them a cast and crew list that includes gender pronouns. If the media misgenders or displays transphobic views about your artists, advocate for your artist. Talk to the artist to see how they would like you to respond. You may need to ask for the article to be corrected, or taken down.
It is very important that designers incorporate accessibility into their design. This conversation should be had early and often as you work towards finalizing your design. The following design considerations are specifically for working with Deaf artists and Deaf audiences, and are a useful example of how to approach design with accessibility in mind:
ASL is communicated using hand gestures and facial expressions. If it’s too dark people will be unable to see the signing. This makes lighting the interpreters and signing actors very important. Your lighting design should ensure that the faces, expressions, and hands of those signing can be seen clearly from all parts of the theatre. If you will be projecting the interpreter, the projection should be large and visible from all parts of the theatre. This allows deaf audiences to sit anywhere they want in the theatre, instead of up close to the interpreters (usually placed near the front of the house).
Surtitles need not be stationary - you can design “dynamic surtitles” that move around the screen following or mirroring the action and/or characters. The surtitles themselves can be paced - like music. Engage with your Deaf artist(s) and interpreter in this process to ensure that the choice and presentation for surtitles works both artistically and practically.
Keep in mind projection placement. When interpreters are placed on the side or in front of the stage, Deaf audience members are limited to sitting quite close to the interpreters, which can also be a visibility issue. By making the projection of the interpreter very large, you allow Deaf audiences to sit wherever they wish to (the viewing capacity is almost similar to a movie theatre).
Signifiers such as colour schemes and props are often used to help identify characters and interpreters. Indicators such as hats, scarves, or colour schemes can help identify who is speaking when the interpreters are positioned off stage.
Discussing access needs
An access need is anything that a collaborator requires (resources, practices, information, comfort, etc.) in order to safely work and be creative. How will you discuss access needs with your team? At what point in the process? This is a personal decision and will be based on your values and the values of the company. One way to engage your team early and as a group is to ask at the first production meeting/rehearsal/read-through: “Does anyone in the room have any access needs they would like to/feel comfortable sharing that will better enable your ability or practice during our time together?”
Don’t assume artists will be comfortable disclosing this information to the whole group. Create an option to discuss access needs one-on-one.
Examples of access needs could include (and are by no means limited to): a low or no scent environment (i.e. no perfume or cologne), access to ear plugs for noise sensitivity, or space to get up and stretch during rehearsals. These are also discussions that can happen as part of creating your Community Agreement.
Support Workers/Support Providers
Some artists may need a support worker or support provider. Creative support workers are trained to navigate the rehearsal room. They are there to support the artist so that they can be safe, creative and effective - in transport, in the rehearsal room, and on stage. Consider how the support worker can be included into the performance in an effective and creative way. A support worker will charge a similar fee to the actor requiring support, so you will need to include this in your budget. In some cases, Public Funders provide special funding in order to support this need.
WorkInCulture has a great resource on the different types of support providers and things to consider when engaging with an artist who may need support. Some of the potential types of support providers they listed are:
- ASL (American Sign Language Interpreter)
- LSQ (Langue des signes du Québec, used in francophone communities)
- Attendant Care
- Personal Support Workers
- Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
- Active Listener
- Communication Assistant
- Learning Assistant
- Accessibility Team Volunteers
Creating an Inclusive Environment
We've all heard it before: actions speak louder than words. The most important piece of creating a safe and inclusive work environment is the culture you create. Shifting your behaviour and artistic process to include the needs of others can be as simple as this:
- Be Direct
- Communicate Often
- Communicate Clearly
- Provide Solutions
- See Opportunities
- Be Generous
Another approach is AFFIRM:
Ask what people need
F : be Flexible
F : be Fearless
Repeat (ask again!)
You can share these ideas and approaches with your team. Include everybody! You are creating a culture of inclusion and that requires the involvement of everyone supporting your project.
Ask your team what you can do better to create a more inclusive, safe and creative environment. Listen and learn from the group. Most importantly, be ready to change. Be open to everyone. Be ready to learn someone’s name correctly, learn their pronouns, learn who they are, and stop operating from a place of assumption. Assumptions based on bias and stereotypes limit your potential relationship with a new person, and the potential of your art.
Education and Practice
As an artist producer, you are responsible for creating a safe work environment. This is especially important when engaging a team of folks who have different access needs.
Be proactive and educate your team. Folks from specific communities should not be responsible for providing education about those communities unless they are paid for it. If you feel more formal education is necessary, hire a cultural consultant from the community to host a workshop in order to educate you and your team and pay them appropriately.
Stand up and be an ally - all the time. Even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s uncomfortable. As the producer, you are modelling behaviour and setting norms for the entire team. Your actions (or inactions) will impact what others see as appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.
Some ways you can model behaviour before getting into the room:
- Put your own pronouns in your email signature
- Include pronouns when you introduce team members in emails
- Send out your organization’s harassment/safe space policy along with artist letters of agreement/contracts
In the room:
- Begin every rehearsal or meeting with a pronoun check-in; hearing new pronouns out loud helps to normalize them.
- Insist that folks’ genders be affirmed and referred to properly. If you don’t know, ask. If you forget, ask again.
- Check-in regularly with your team to find out if they would like to add or change anything in the community agreement.
- Hire cultural consultants, elders, ASL Coaches, and Directors of Artistic Sign Language when working on a project that requires experience and expertise that you yourself are not knowledgeable in.
Outside of the room:
- Check-in with your artists to make sure they are getting to and from work safely. Folks with limited mobility and folks from the trans community may need more support to make sure their commute is safe.
- Watch social media for any misgendering, racism, ableism, sexism, all-other-isms in posts, reviews, comments, and media related to your project. If something happens, advocate for your artist. Be prepared to flag, report, or takedown posts accordingly. If an artist is implicated, you may want to talk to them to see how they would like you to respond, or proactively shield your artist from hurtful or harmful content. A social media policy and contractual agreements can help guide you in navigating these circumstances. For example, Eldritch Theatre has their social media policy listed in the "about" section of their Facebook page.
ASL Coaches & Directors of Artistic Sign Language (DASL)
An ASL Coach is an expert at both ASL and theatre. Their role in a production is to help with the translation of a script from ASL to English and vice versa. They work closely with the director, playwright, and dramaturge to provide clarity, insight, and help with adaptations and alterations. They also ensure that cultural references and ideas are communicated clearly in both languages. This person provides essential support for Deaf artists, being an advocate for them during the creative process, and also being supportive to the Deaf artists so they can concentrate on learning their role. They should be invited into the process very early on, ideally at the very start of the creative process.
If one of your artists is also acting as the ASL Coach for a production, be sure to pay them an appropriate fee for the consultation work they are doing. This doubling down in roles and responsibilities is not recommended. It can put the artist in a compromising situation, as they may feel the need to advocate for themselves and their community.
ASL coaches may cost $50-$100/hr with a 2-hour minimum booking. They may also choose to book using half-day or full-day rates. The fee is largely dependent on the ASL Coach. The ASL coach will know how to properly charge when it comes to their fees and expertise. It is best to ask them what their rate is and go from there.
Download our infographic on How to Make Spoken Theatre Accessible for Deaf Audiences.
Download How to Make Sign Language Theatre Accessible for All Audiences.
Tools, resources and further reading
- We've created a playlist of videos for Deaf artists on YouTube which includes our vlog series on Grant Writing, Organizations that work with and support collaborations with Deaf artists, and Collaborators and Companies for Deaf Artists.
- Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit (DATT): an initiative by Cahoots Theatre to include Deaf artists and programming considerations through all aspects of production. The toolkit walks you through the entire process from start to finish. There is lots of important helpful information, including cultural context, budget templates and timelines.
- Ontario Arts Council information videos: The Ontario Arts Council has information videos with closed captions that are translated into ASL about their programs for Deaf Artists and Artists with Disabilities.
- Download an accessible pdf of Focus on Disability & Deaf Arts in Canada, A Report from the Field by Rose Jacobson and Geoff McMurchy, created in 2012. This report introduces readers to the basic language used in current discourse around disability arts, provides examples of culturally specific and integrated projects and organizations that constitute the sector, and some of the art forms that require resources, technologies and capacity-building to flourish. It concludes with some basic recommendations for change to funders, art service organizations and producers/trainers.
- Gender Explosion Initiative: Creating A Space for Gender Diverse Theatre (Stage Source)
- Finding Our Way in a World of Gender Fluidity (Howlround)
- Toward a Trans Canon (Howlround) is an article written by Emma Frankland, which also includes a Guidance Document for Creating Trans-Affirming Theatre Spaces. The guidance document was compiled by Cole Alvis (they/them), Samson Bonkeabantu Brown (he/him), Rhiannon Collett (they/them), Emma Frankland (she/her), Cassandra James (she/her), Beric Manywounds (they/them), and Subira Wahogo (they/them) during a Lab investigation called Toward a Trans Canon, which took place at the Stratford Festival of Canada in August 2019. A PDF of the Guidance Document is linked on Howlround here.
- Australian artists Spence Messih and Archie Barry have compiled a free resource titled Clear Expectations: Guidelines for Institutions, Galleries, and Curators Working with Trans, Non-Binary, and Gender Diverse Artists, to help arts and culture organizations better understand best practices around working with gender variant artists.
Resources and information on this page specific to working with Trans/GNB/GNC folks were developed in part through the Woke 2.0 Edition #3: Gender Blender on June 10, 2018. The event was hosted by Generator and the Storefront Theatre and was facilitated by Kit Boulter (Performer & Creator) and Sedina Fiati (Managing Producer of The Storefront Theatre).