So last week, HowlRound hosted a great Twitter discussion (under #HowlRound) about rape culture in theatre, which was a great juxtaposition with the previous day’s Twitter convo about feminism in Seattle’s art scene. Someone in the #RapeCulture #HowlRound mentioned #DisabilityRights, which got me thinking – we really don’t talk enough about disability rights when we talk about other types of activism. The conversation is beginning, it’s true, but often racism, sexism, and homophobia are discussed while excluding disability (mental or physical) or transgender issues.

I mean, there’s a lot of major issues in our culture. And theatre can’t solve all of them. But I’m particularly ignorant when it comes to disability rights, so I wanted to host a question about how theatres treat disabled audience members, whether they are wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf, or somewhere on the neurologic spectrum (like Aspberger’s or autism). I know there are theatres out there that, say, offer ASL interpreters or audio-aids for deaf and blind patrons, but those are rare. I know there are wheelchair seats in many theatres, but as I work mainly in small theatre, I know retrofitting some spaces to accommodate physical disabilities is both a financial and structural challenge. I know that some theatres have created performances that don’t trigger sensitivity issues beyond epilepsy.

But what about considering these questions and not just catering one or two days of one or two shows in a season, but considering these larger questions to allow a wider variety of audience members to come enjoy a theatrical experience?

One hour on Twitter can only do so much, but I think a lot of great theatres and service organizations were name-dropped, so the resources are there, and a lot of discussion occurred not just about occasional accommodation, but about the importance of avoiding tokenism. We also touched on casting disabled actors rather than getting actors to “crip up,” and even casting disabled actors as … any character. I mean, why can’t a woman with multiple sclerosis play Lady MacBeth, for example?


I’d like to give a particular shout-out to Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts for offering casting help for disabled actors and casting services to companies that want to hire them, among many other advocacy programs.

And also Theatre Development Fund (TDF) Accessibility Program launched the Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI) for creating an autism-friendly performance, which gave me some insight into first steps toward making theatre performances more friendly for spectrum disorders.

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