Sheffield Theatres at centre of blind commentary pay row

Sheffield Crucible and Lyceum Theatre

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Neil Theasby

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Sheffield Theatres operates the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio theatres

Sheffield Theatres has been accused of leaving blind audience members to “rely on charity for their rights” after it emerged audio describers are not paid.

Jane Ensell quit her post as an audio describer after eight years saying that to depend on volunteers was “unfair on the audience”.

She said it was the only unpaid role in the organisation.

Sheffield Theatres which runs the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio theatres said the position was under review.

Miss Ensell said: “Everyone else, the marketing team, the actors, the cleaning staff, and, importantly, the [sign language] interpreters and the captioners are paid, so services for deaf audiences are paid but, historically, the audio describers have been volunteers.

“Some of my colleagues have been there for as long as 25 years and it was far more usual back then [not to be paid] but this is 2019 and equality of access is law and we should not be expecting disabled people to rely on charity for their rights.”

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Jane Ensell

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Jane Ensell said audio describers at other UK theatres could earn about £350 to prepare and present a script

The role involves describing the “visual elements of a production” such as scenery, costumes, visual jokes or dances to audience members wearing headsets.

Miss Ensell said audio describers at other UK theatres can be paid in the region of £350 to prepare and present a script for a performance.

She said she had raised the pay issue four years ago and did not want to leave her role but accused Sheffield Theatres of being “intransigent” on the matter.

In a statement, Sheffield Theatres said a review of “the resource for audio description” together with other access families was “already under way”.

It said: “Our team of committed volunteers has delivered audio description for a number of years.

“We greatly value and recognise this contribution and as part of our ongoing review are in direct discussion with our volunteers to ensure the right and fair outcome.”

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