The mega-hit musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda has found itself in the dock over claims of “systemic civil rights violations” against blind and visually-impaired audience members, due to the lack of regular audio-description facilities. This report in Variety highlights the lack of accessible performances on Broadway – from autism-friendly performances to ASL interpretation and captioning:
Privately, Broadway producers all express the best of intentions: Everyone, after all, wants more people to be able to attend their show. But during the often chaotic, high-pressure months around a production’s opening, accessibility accommodations often fall to the bottom of a long to-do list, and, some producers add, it only makes sense to spend the money on accommodations once it’s clear a show is successful enough to run for a while. It can also be a challenge figuring out which services (like sign language interpretation or “open caption” supertitles) are wanted how often.
While the US culture of litigation can be problematic, I have to applaud the choice of Hamilton as the test-case in this area, as it’s a fine example of critically acclaimed work for adults which should be accessible to all. Indeed, the production rightly prides itself on its diverse casting, but if people with disabilities and neurodiverse spectators cannot easily attend, then its audiences will lack that diversity. Wicked, The Lion King and Aladdin have begun to present regular relaxed performances, but their more ‘adult’ counterparts are arguably perpetuating what can be seen as a patronising and infantilising cultural offer by refusing to follow suit. After all, children with autism grow up. If they develop a taste for culture by attending The Lion King as children, where can they find the stories that reflect their lives when they are no longer young?