Access for The Disabled at Broadway Shows in New York City
How do Disabled People Fare When They Try To See a Broadway Show
Most Broadway shows are held in old Broadway theaters that were built in a different time with different attitudes towards disabled people. These theaters, some of which are over 100 years old, have narrow through-spaces and lots of steps, making it nearly impossible for the wheelchair-bound to maneuver around them. So what should disabled people do when they want to see a Broadway show?
Fortunately, all of the Broadway theaters currently in use have at least a minimum of wheelchair-accessibility. This means that there are designated places on the orchestra level, usually in the very back, very front, or on the extreme sides of the theater. Only a handful of newer theaters have elevators that allow people in wheelchairs to reach other levels of the building. Advocates for the disabled are currently working to improve this situation so that handicapped patrons can have a wider variety of seating choices.
Services For Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Visually Impaired Patrons
Broadway is also getting better about providing services for deaf and hard of hearing theatergoers. Occasionally, certain Broadway shows have performances that are interpreted in American Sign Language, and captioning is sometimes available as well. Call the Theatre Development Fund's Accessibility Programs (TAP) office to learn more about when these special Broadway performances are taking place: 212-912-9770 ext. 382. You can view a list of upcoming captioned/interpreted performances on www.tdf.org by selecting “hearing loss” from the drop down menu at the top of the page. An organization known as Hands On! also sponsors sign language interpreted events around New York City. Visit www.handson.org for information on upcoming events.
Assistive listening devices are also popular with patrons who cannot hear well, and these are usually available at the Broadway theater upon arrival. A select few Broadway shows (e.g. Wicked, Mamma Mia) offer a service called i-caption, which is a hand held captioning device that works from any seat in the theater. To reserve one of these devices, call Sound Associates at 212-582-7678.
There are now services for the blind and visually-impaired as well, such as Hospital Audiences Inc's Describe! program. This service provides the audience member with a headset and a live commentary in which, during pauses in the dialogue, a describer explains what is happening on stage. TAP also sponsors Audio Described performances - to get a list of all of TAP services or to become a member, visit www.tdf.org/tap TAP members are notified of upcoming performances in advance, and they can purchase discount tickets though TAP.
To determine the accessibility situation for any given Broadway show, the best thing to do is to look up the show that you are interested in on Ticketmaster or Telecharge (these ticketing vendors handle the majority of Broadway shows).
Telecharge Access Information
On Telecharge.com you will find a wealth of information (everything from number of steps in various parts of the theater to information on restroom accessibility) by clicking on the "Access Information" link under the listing for any Broadway show. Telecharge also allows you to order tickets for wheelchair-accessible seating (as well as a "companion" seat) right online for many Broadway shows. When you click on the "Find tickets" option, if you see a wheelchair icon, you can click on that to order these kinds of tickets. If you don't see that icon, you'll see another link to this page, which provides the phone numbers for arranging tickets.
Ticketmaster Accessibility Information
For Ticketmaster.com shows, you are usually encouraged to call the theater box office directly for tickets. You will see a "Request Accessible Seating" icon on the order page for each Broadway show -- click on that link to get the appropriate phone number to call to make seating arrangements. A few Broadway shows offer a ticket request form instead, which you can then fill out and wait for them to contact you with further details. There is also sometimes a little more accessibility info available if you click on the 'Parking' or 'Directions' links on the Broadway show's ticket order page.