Accessibility in Improv: Supplementary Information

On Monday 13 October at 1:30pm, Susan Williams will be presenting a talk on Accessibility in Improv for the Forums Series 2019. This is a free, public event at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, and she’s provided a handout for anyone who needs access in advance of the presentation. We’re publishing it here and also making it available as a google doc at this link. Let us know if you need more information by emailing

A picture of sequins, arranged in a rainbow

A picture of sequins, arranged in a rainbow

Making your information/newsletter/flyer/website/etc accessible:

Always provide image descriptions. An image description is a sentence or two of text that describes what is in the image. This doesn’t have to be every detail, just what the image is and any important info it contains.

Provide a digital copy of any written material. Digital copies are great, they can be read out loud by technology, translated into braille using an electronic Braille display, the font can be enlarged, colours can be changed, it can scroll for those who can’t turn pages. Essentially you can do all the things and it is very accessible. Make sure this material is actual text in a common format. If you can highlight the text with your mouse pointer that is usually a clear indication you got it right. However if it is an image of text (you made a pretty poster, you did word art on a pretty background and exported it as an image, you scanned your printout into the computer, etc) this is not accessible and you need to provide a text copy as well.

Provide a physical copy of material as well, because not everyone can Technology.

For extra points have a couple of large print (minimum 18pt font) physical copies of information available.

Make sure your website is screen reader accessible (you can find heaps of info online for this).

Suggestions for workshops:

Provide contact details beforehand and invite people to contact you with any accessibility questions or needs.

Check in with your group at the start. And be sure to ask about any physical or emotional needs and limitations.

If you know you have a disabled participant talk to them about their needs, check in with them beforehand if possible and talk about what is coming, particularly any exercises that may need adaptation.

Always aim to adapt an exercise for that person, rather than throwing the exercise away or making them sit out.

Remember you are the expert in what you are teaching, but a disabled attendee is the expert on themselves and their disability. You don’t have to have all the answers for how to adapt an activity, the participant may already have adaptations they use, or it may be something you can discover together. Often the very best adaptations and scenes come from a teacher, a disabled participant, and everyone else in the workshop, all figuring out together how to make things work in the moment.

What accessibility info to provide about a space:

Is the venue wheelchair accessible? This includes a ramp that isn’t too steep and doesn’t have impossibly sharp turns, lifts, an accessible toilet, a disability park nearby with room around it to get a wheelchair out of the vehicle, doorways and corridors that aren’t unusually narrow. Note that not all wheelchair users need every one of these things, so if your venue doesn’t have them all state clearly what it does and doesn’t have.

Does the building have clear signage? If not what landmarks should people look out for to find their way.

Is there Braille or tactile numbers in the lifts? Is there any Braille signage in the building. If not who should be contacted to assist blind/vision impaired participants in finding what they need.

Is there a drop off zone near your venue?

Is there a disability car park near the venue?

Is there a quiet space for resting or escaping from sensory overload and/or from the requirement to be social?

Is there a kitchen? Is there hot water? Is there a fridge?

Are there parenting facilities?

For Shows

NZSL Interpreted means a show provides an NZSL Interpreter.

NZSL Interpreters provide a live translation of the show, including dialogue and sounds, into New Zealand Sign Language. (This is the same in other countries, but obviously with the appropriate sign language for the location.)

What a Sign Language interpreter needs: The interpreter usually stands on or near the stage in a position where the audience can see them clearly without having to look too far away from the action, and they are well lit, but not in the way of, or in the middle of the onstage action.

Audio Described means the show provides audio description.

Audio Description is a spoken narration of the visual aspects of a show, it can include such things as who is onstage, what physical action is taking place, reactions, expressions that don’t come across through voice or sounds, costumes, etc etc. It is impossible to cover every aspect of the visual, so audio describers are trained to focus on the most important information needed to allow blind/low vision/vision impaired audience members to follow and enjoy the show.

What an audio describer needs: While it is completely possible to do audio description in a low-tech way, with the describer standing in front of the audience using a mic or projecting, and just describing what is happening this can be quite distracting for the audience and very very distracting for the players.

Usually specific technology is used, in this case a headset that muffles the describers voice so the audience cannot hear them, but pics their voice up using a mic in the headset and transmits it to receivers. Each person who wants to listen to the audio description is given a receiver with an earphone, they wear this while watching the show, and the audio description is transmitted directly to it.

Trigger warnings: If your show theme or content is likely to touch on potentially triggering topics, provide a trigger warning, in the advertising and at the start of the show.

Sensory friendly performances

These are performances where the potentially overwhelming sensory aspects of the show are reduced as much as possible. It provides a comfortable soothing environment suitable for those with disabilities that affect sensory processing, such as those on the Autistic Spectrum.

The rule of thumb here is avoid extremes.

Some examples include: Committing to having no loud or sudden noises, no cacophonies, and avoiding potentially triggering sounds such as shouting or whispering.

Keeping stage lights dimmer than usual and audience lights on the entire time on a low setting. Avoiding blackouts, especially sudden blackouts. In fact try to avoid sudden things in general.

Always have an easy exit available so if someone needs to leave or return part way through they can do so without feeling they are being disruptive. And make it clear at the start that audience can come and go to take care of themselves as they need.

Absolutely no strobe lighting.

Smaller audiences to avoid crowds and the need to make sounds loud to be heard.

Keep the audience numbers well below the capacity of the space so that people are not forced to sit right next to someone if this makes them uncomfortable. Or if seating is not fixed then leave some seats with gaps around them.

Helpful New Zealand Organisations

Arts Access Aotearoa

Contact for information and support on being accessible
Hire Equipment for audio description
Contact for information on finding audio describers and NZSL interpreters
List your accessible event

Be. Accessible
Gives details on accessible venues.
Also a useful resource for examples of how to describe the accessibility of the space.

Access Matters
Currently fighting for accessibility legislation in New Zealand.
Follow for updates on the campaign and stories that highlight the need for accessibility in our society.

Disability Pride Aotearoa
Runs Disability Pride Week Aotearoa
A national week of events celebrating disability pride, it includes many accessible performances and showcases the work of disabled performing artists

Attitude Awards
Celebrating disabled kiwis and their achievements

Blind and Low Vision NZ (Formerly the Blind Foundation)

Recommended Youtube Channels

Check out these awesome disabled youtubers and advocates for a deeper dive into the disabled community in general, accessibility, and how to be an awesome ally.

(Note: There are so many amazing people and channels out there, these are some of my favourites to get you started.)

Molly Burke
Disability: Blind
Main video topics: Life as a young blind person. Fashion and life.

Annie Elainey
Disability: Chronically ill wheelchair user (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome)
Main Video Topics: Disability advocacy, the disabled community, how to be a good ally.

Amythest Schaber
Disability: Autistic
Main Video Topics: Ask an Autistic. The Autistic community, Autism, being a good ally

Disability: Covers a vast range
Main video topics: Sharing the stories of Kiwis living with a disability

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
Multiple including chronic illness, mobility, Deaf, and chronic migraines
Main Video Topics: Disability, life as a chronically ill, multiply disabled, deaf lesbian. Vintage fashion.