War Horse at the National Theatre: a streamlined deaf customer experience

As you will know if you have been reading our articles for some time; we are always looking for stories from deaf people about the experiences that show access at its best (and worst!)

The National Theatre came up in a recent conversation with a deaf friend. She used the words “you’ll never believe it” and “can’t wait to tell you about it.” So, of course, I wanted to know more.

She had booked to see War Horse at the National Theatre and explained that the experience was full of ‘wow’ moments from start to finish!

She told me that most of the time when she attends the theatre, she will study the play so she is clear on the storyline, which always makes it easier to follow and enjoy on the day. But her experience meant that she needn’t have done that on this occasion.

She got in touch with the access office two weeks before to check that the seats were the most appropriate place for their needs. This was confirmed during the conversation and she was excited and looking forward to the performance.

What she told me was that before attending the theatre she always has a slight concern about the stigma of being deaf and the fact that it may draw the attention of other people. What was interesting in this experience was that she did not have to prompt the theatre staff on the things she usually has to – the things that explain why she usually feels like this!

During this performance, the National Theatre was showcasing a new way of providing better access for their deaf audience – glasses that, when worn, show the subtitles in the wearer’s field of vision.

Both my friend and her husband’s names were checked off the list on arrival and they were asked if they would like a synopsis of the play. They were not asked about whether they were deaf – their needs were simply catered for immediately without even having to ask. She noticed that also happened for a number of other audience members.

This was a positive moment already, because a need had been pre-empted without having to say anything.

Once they’d settled into their seats, another member of staff came and checked how they were getting on with the glasses.

Even when they went to the kitchen areas to order food, it was a very visual experience with staff pointing at food and drinks, maintaining eye contact and making it very easy to both understand and be understood.

Accessibility has been considered across not only the experience but the entire customer journey. It was clearly a set of conscious decisions that have come from fully understanding how deaf people access the theatre – before arriving, arriving, on the day and all the added extras.

What is clear is that all the small touches that have been implemented here mean a deaf theatre-goer is the same as any other. Which is a perfect example of what happens when access is built in from the start and across the whole customer journey.