Disabled Access Day 12 March 2016

As it is Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12 March, we wanted to tell you more about how the Unicorn Theatre is an access-friendly venue. When it comes to making theatre for everyone, we’re definitely pioneers in finding new, engaging ways to get everyone involved. We pride ourselves on ensuring that the theatre is not only accessible to our audience members but to also provide an accessible working environment.

We spoke to Sair Smith, Events Producer at the Unicorn who plays a key part in managing accessible performances and is also responsible for creating our Usher+ scheme

In what ways is the Unicorn Theatre access-friendly? 
SS: At the Unicorn we strive to offer shows that are accessible to everyone and we work hard to ensure that we offer specific performances with additional support for access patrons every season. We currently offer Relaxed Performances, Live Audio Described performances that include a pre show Touch-Tour, Live Captioned performances, Integrated Sign Language performances and we always identify shows that are Deaf Friendly [access page link]. 

We are especially proud of our Relaxed and Audio Described performances as we have a role within the Front of House department called an Access Assistant who acts as a personal usher to any access patrons that would like some additional support or guidance. Our Front of House team itself is also Access-Friendly thanks to our Usher+ scheme. 

Full details of our access provisions are here

What is Usher+?
We have several ushers with additional needs working within our Front of House (FoH) team. The Usher+ scheme is an in-house support system for those ushers. 

How does Usher+ work? 

SS: Our FoH ushers have received additional training and guidance to allow them to support ushers on the scheme and form a buddy system. These pairs work together during the same shifts and have pre and post shift meetings.  During these meetings, they discuss the responsibilities of the day and complete a log about aims for the shift or reminders from a previous shift and how the shift went with discussions around potential areas of improvement. Both ushers have separate responsibilities and the support usher does not shadow or follow, they are just there as back-up if the usher needs them at any point.  We have found that this hands off approach really helps to develop a sense of confidence for the usher. 

What a brilliant process! How did Usher+ come about? 
SS: A few years ago we employed an usher that came to us through an Access to Work company who needed a support worker to chaperone them during the journey to work and the shift itself. We found that the support worker was preventing the usher from feeling part of the team and that the support worker wasn’t actually able to assist with shift responsibilities as they didn’t work for us. I decided to bring that role in-house so that the person supporting knew the building, the roles and the usher they were assisting. It made a huge difference almost immediately and the team really bonded.  

How many Ushers do you employ under the scheme? 

SS: We currently have seven ushers with additional needs on the team and four of them are supported by the Usher+ scheme. 

What are the outcomes of the scheme?
SS: A happy and confident Front of House team that can provide the best possible customer service to our wide range of audience members. 

How has the scheme evolved since you started it?
SS: The usher who came to us with the external support worker is still working within the team but no longer needs a support usher. The usher was part of the scheme for two years and now feels confident enough to work the various roles within the team without the extra support. This usher has never worked anywhere without support before and we are extremely proud of their journey with us. Some of the ushers on the scheme will always be on the scheme so we don’t set out with this goal in mind but when it happens it’s a huge achievement for everyone involved.

What has the feedback on Usher+ been so far?
SS: We always receive great feedback from the families of the ushers with additional needs about the boost in their confidence and independence quite early on in the process. We also hear from members of the public and they observe and appreciate that the team is very diverse and praise us for that. The team feedback regularly and love the system we’ve created. We wouldn’t be who we are without this system and its participants.

What sort of challenges does the scheme present?   
SS: Due to the nature of the scheme it does rely on ushers who are willing to receive the additional training and then to be willing to support their team mates on a daily basis both on shift and sometimes in a pastoral way too. Luckily we have a great team and that hasn’t ever been an issue. 
What aspect of the scheme are you most proud of? 
SS: The daily teamwork and service the group achieve by working and supporting each other. We are particularly proud of the success stories and the real difference that the scheme has made to those that participate in it. 

What advice would you give to those who may want to apply?
SS: Keep an eye on the jobs page on the Unicorn website! 

What advice would you give to other venues who may want to start something like? 
SS: Just do it! It’s not difficult to set up and there is funding out there to help. Your team will thank you for it.
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