Is it time for a bit of ‘green-grass’ thinking in some of our theatres and leisure venues?

Image shows a landscape of green grass and a blue sky with white clouds above
Green Grass and Blue Sky image labeled for reuse from Public Domain

Blue-sky thinking is great, of course. All those fabulous ideas that come swirling down and get you all giddy and excited…

But there’s a downside to the lure of this approach and the constant thrill-seeking of innovation. When these big new ideas sweep in they can make you believe that all the other ideas that came before are in place, up and running and working like a dream. But this, as we know, is very often not the case, and staff on the ground are left running to catch up, with the foundations of all the other big ideas left half-dug.

This may be particularly true in the world of theatre access and inclusivity. We learn about new bits of tech every day, or services that will help make the arts more accessible for a whole range of people and their requirements, from glasses allowing the wearer to read live captions to audio description delivery via your own smart phone. We can now provide video and audio versions of our what’s on guides, and with screen reading equipment the user themselves has more control of getting information just how they want it. Relaxed performances and Dementia friendly events are part of the everyday parlance now… but it doesn’t mean they’re happening. And if they are, are we still working on BSL and Captioned performances too? Just because all this great stuff exists in theory, it doesn’t mean that the humble induction loop is working properly in any more venues or that our blind and partially sighted patrons are finding it easier to navigate our websites, or our buildings for that matter.

There’s another downside to the blue-sky ideas – for some venues ‘blue-sky’ means they’re out of reach. There’s nothing more demoralising than feeling you are shut out from a solution due to money, time, or resources. It can make you want to give up and take your bat home, and that’s not going to help anyone.

So here’s where ‘green-grass’ thinking comes in…

Instead of staring up and into space waiting for the proverbial apple, take a look down at where your feet are firmly planted and look at the things that are in reach and within your control to change now. If you apply the green-grass thinking logic for a second you can actually see that there are loads of things you can do, achievable things that don’t need much (or any) money or time, but that will make a huge difference to your disabled customers. You can create your own large print listing almost immediately, or set aside some easy access seating for people with limited mobility. Organise a forum with local disabled groups to discuss what they want from your venue. Create an instruction checklist for your induction loop and make sure all staff know what to do if it isn’t working. Take a long look at your accessible toilet and finally find somewhere else to keep that mop and bucket! There are literally hundreds of things that have probably already been thought of, were once a bit of ‘blue-sky’ thinking themselves before our attention moved on.

I honestly believe that you have to start with the everyday, perhaps less sexy, basics. Venue management need to make sure that existing staff, not to mention new staff, know how their venues work for disabled people and what their part in that accessibility is. There is not a single department that shouldn’t be involved in this drive to be inclusive for all customers. And it has to start, and keep returning to, the basics. New staff, new buildings or refurbishments – all may mean you have to go back to the beginning with training and management strategies. And that’s ok. And when the new ideas do come, just incorporate them into the cycle of training and re-training, assessing and re-assessing.

Thinking up the big idea in many ways is the easy part, it’s the groundwork for making them happen – and most importantly continue to happen – that’s hard. Empowering and enabling teams on the ground to deliver both the ‘everyday’ and the ‘innovative’ is essential. And if we can get that right then great customer service for all will have a chance to finally happen too.

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