Audio description: bringing theatre to life for the visually impaired
Audio description: bringing theatre to life for the visually impaired ©

Mari27454 under Flickr Creative Commons license

Sue Scott is visually impaired and involved with Bradford Talking Media, an organisation that provides people who cannot access the written word with audio information such as talking magazines and books. 

In the local community, I’m mainly involved in access to the theatre and access to information. I used to be a teacher of English and I used to go to the theatre all the time, in fact all my life. And then, about five years ago, I started to lose my sight, so all of a sudden I had to stop teaching, stop driving, stop going to the theatre because I couldn’t see onto the stage.

Then I found out about Northern Ballet Theatre, who had a production at my local theatre where I always went and it was audio-described. Well, as I said at the time, it was like getting back into the land of the living. So I wrote a letter to the manager and asked for more audio-described shows. And at the same time we started to form a group in Bradford for visually impaired people. When I started that I had to go to the city hall and work with other equality groups on the equality forum with the leader of the council. They formed a group called Bradford Theatre Access Group, which involves the council, the theatre management and disabled people.

I’m visually impaired, we’ve also got a hearing impaired person and wheelchair users and other disabilities and we all work together to make access better for the theatre. Now, regarding visual impairment, most shows are audio-described and loads and loads of blind and visually impaired people are going to the theatre. Last year, the theatres in Bradford won a national award for ‘Most Welcoming Theatre’. We’re also working for inclusion: women, socially deprived groups, different ethnic minority groups, so that everybody in Bradford is welcomed into the theatre.

When we go to the theatre, we can’t read programmes or the brochures, so part of the work is providing the information for people in different formats, so that if you’re blind or visually impaired you can have Braille, large print or CD information. A group called Talking Media provides this. I got to know them when I first started to go blind because they already do a local magazine for visually impaired people that’s circulated around Bradford. They also do the minutes, the agendas, the reports. They’ve been kind of successful but it’s moved to the council now. And so, there’s accepted principals of involvement for disabled people and one of them is to ask the disabled people what they want and then provide different formats. So if you want your council tax or just any information that comes from the council, which could be crucial, the council and the disability people have got together and formed a group with Talking Media, who provide the information, and the health authorities all working towards providing information on CD. I can’t read now and sometimes that information is crucial. We’re trying to get a system set up with the health authorities and the council so that information is automatically sent to registered blind people.

Shared goals 

The Active Citizens project seemed to be a gathering together of everything that I’ve done in my life. When I worked as a teacher in a deprived area, I always fought for equality. In Bradford we’ve got multicultural issues and I was always fighting for equality for disabled people. But when I went to South Africa, I was mainly going to look at disabled equality issues. I was told that disabled people and blind people don’t come out of the house and weren’t socially included. So when I got to South Africa and met the Active Citizens and I met Gladys and the Active Citizens, they took us to two special needs schools. They were doing a lot with people like me, with a girl called Bernadene who’s blind, and she’s singing and doing modern dance and with an impaired girl who’s a trainer, which is wonderful, and then doing a dance group with physically disabled people.

Now that Gladys has come here she’s also set about working with British Council and having meetings in South Africa about disabled people and trying to involve them in the Olympics coming to Britain. During my work with the theatre, I’ve been involved in workshops with the Northern Ballet Theatre and a girl called Caroline Burn. She does workshops for disabled people and the visually impaired and I knew she’d already been to China with something to do with the Olympics. Now that Gladys is here in Bradford we’ve linked them up, and the Northern Ballet Theatre, which is a very prestigious company here, want to be involved with the group in South Africa. They linked for a project and we’re thinking that’s fabulous.

Today, we’ve been to Mind the Gap, which is a theatre group for disabled people. We’ve also been back to Talking Media with a couple of other people who are involved in that as well and they’ve been recording for the next month’s magazine, telling all the blind people in Bradford everything that’s been going on about Active Citizens, which is really rewarding for people I think.