Lviv First Theatre for Children and Youth introduces new technologies, making the Universal Design principles practical and transforming a theatre into more inclusive space for spectators with disabilities.

“Imagine we are in a theatre. A performance starts, the lights are on, music plays, the actors come out and ... you are not able to see any of it,” says Oksana, mother of a girl with visual impairment.

The First Theater in Lviv managed to change this practice. Starting from October, all theatre performances are adapted for the people with visual impairment. Now they could hear the audio description, a special voice guide delivered live through the headphones. It explains what is happening on the stage, including scenery, facial expressions, actions of the characters.

An audio description is provided by a specialist who comments during the play. Actors of the First Theatre had a special training to be able to use this method.

“Live audio description is a task that requires extra preparation. You need to watch the performance several times to find a way to briefly and clearly explain the meaning of what is happening on stage to people who cannot see that. Having the text for an audio description included in the script can make commentator’s work much easier,” says Lesya, an actress who commented during the performance for the first time.

At 8 o'clock on the Ark, a performance accompanied by an audio description, was organised as a part of the "Inclusive Theatre" project and kicked off the 99th theatre season. The project is implemented under the programme Mainstreaming Policies and Services for People with Disabilities in Ukraine jointly implemented by UNDP, WHO, and ILO .

Implementation of the “Inclusive Theatre” project is a significant step towards improving the accessibility of the theatre for different audiences. In addition to audio description, there will be a ramp installed in the theatre and widening of space for theatre goers on the wheelchairs. For people with visual impairment, there will be a tactile guidance in the theatre yard to help them easily navigate.

“Previously, when I went to the theatre or opera with my parents, there was a specially trained person sitting next to me whispering explanations to me. It was distracting others. Besides, the whispering was not always audible, especially when music was loud. Now I can fully enjoy the play,” Vira, 11, shares her impressions after watching the performance. She has visual impairment and studies in an inclusive class in Lviv.

“This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. One of its articles says that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of society, enjoy art, participate in scientific progress and use its benefits,” said Marcus Brand, Team Leader of Democratic Governance Team at UNDP Ukraine, during the press conference where audio description was presented.

Apart from the theatre performances, audio description could be practical during film screening, sport competitions, circus performances, as well as for museum exhibitions.

Based on the project experience, the First Theatre team is going to present a model of an accessible theatre by the end of this year.  

The Joint Program ‘Mainstreaming Policies and Services for People with Disabilities in Ukraine’ is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) with the support of the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities together with the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, and the National Assembly of People with Disabilities.

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