Theatre Development Fund has been a leader in programs and advocacy for theatergoers with physical disabilities through its TDF Accessibility Programs (TAP) since 1979. This week, TAP is launching a new component of its arts-in–education program, “Access for Young Audiences,” whose goal is to help students who are blind or who have low vision enjoy Broadway theatre for the first time in their lives.
To launch this new initiative, Disney Theatrical Productions has made available Wednesday matinee performances of their three hit musicals, Mary Poppins (October 15), The Little Mermaid (October 29) and The Lion King (December 10) to accommodate participants in this special audio description performances. For these performances, a total of 170 students from 6 schools in the Tri-State area with programs for students who are blind or with low vision will be attending these productions. For most of them it will be their first live theatre experience.
Prior to each performance, the students will be visited by teaching artist/theatre audio describer Andrea Day for a special workshop in their classrooms. There, Ms. Day will work with the students, explaining the process they will be experiencing at the theatre and even bringing sample costumes for them to feel to enhance their theatre going experience. At the theatre, the students will each wear an earpiece connected to a hand-held FM receiver, provided by Sound Associates. Ms. Day will be in a side box seat describing key elements of the production, including stage directions, via a wireless FM transmitter, so the students can get a fuller understanding of everything that is happening onstage. Audience member who do not wear an earpiece are not disturbed by the audio description.
“We are thrilled to be able to make theatre more accessible for these students,” said Director of TDF Accessibility Programs, Lisa Carling. “We had a highly successful pilot audio described performance last spring and are grateful to Disney Theatrical Productions for allowing us to launch this program with their shows. Our other ‘Access for Young Audiences’ program which provides sign language interpreted and open captioned performances for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, also began with the help of Disney Theatricals in 1995 through their production of Beauty and the Beast. That program has since helped over 10,000 students with mild to severe hearing loss attend the theatre. We hope to do the same for the extremely underserved population of students who are blind or have low vision. We also want to also give a shout out to Sound Associates for their assistance.”
"Disney is delighted to continue our education and outreach partnership with Theatre Development Fund,” said Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher, a mentor in TDF’s “Open Doors” program. “TDF’s programs such as "Access for Young Audiences," “Open Doors” and “Stage Doors” go hand-in-hand with Disney Theatrical Productions’ desire to ensure that diverse audiences are able to experience our productions.”
The students attending are from the following schools: NY Institute for Special Education—Schermerhorn Program, P721X at 360 and The Lavelle School for the Blind in The Bronx; The VISIONS Program in Manhattan; St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City; and Helen Keller School for the Blind in Sands Point, NY.
Theatre Development Fund’s Accessibility Programs (TAP) was established in 1979 to provide access to the performing arts for people with physical disabilities. TAP serves theatergoers with mild to profound hearing loss with regularly scheduled open captioned and American Sign Language interpreted performances of Broadway and Off Broadway shows; serves theatre goers who are partially sighted or blind; people who for medical reasons cannot climb stairs; and people who require aisle seating or use wheelchairs. Through TAP, TDF offers discount orchestra tickets that are chosen with the customer’s specific seating needs in mind. TAP presented the first sign interpreted performance of a Broadway show with The Elephant Man in 1980, again made Broadway history in 1997 with the first open captioned performance of a Broadway show, Barrymore, thus opening up theatre to an entire population of deaf and hard of hearing individuals who are unable to utilize American Sign Language or receive only partial help from assistive listening devices.
TAP, along with The Juilliard School, also sponsors an annual "Interpreting for the Theatre," an annual one-week intensive institute for professional sign language interpreters from across the United States and overseas. Since 1995 years, the arts-in-education, “Access for Young Audiences” has made theatre accessible to over 10,000 students with mild to severe hearing loss with simultaneously open captioned and sign language interpreted performances of Broadway shows. Now, this new component to that program will make theatre accessible for students who are blind or have low vision.
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