Accessibility in arts and entertainment venues: Auckland Live case study

Arts and entertainment can enrich everyone’s lives, but that only works if venues are accessible. We used a Mystery Shopper approach to help one venue identify the improvements they could make.

The Wintergarden, with tables and chairs in the foreground and a wide staircase in the background.

Most of us instinctively feel that the arts have value to everyone. Now we know, too, that they have a proven impact on health, well-being and social inclusion. In fact, there is evidence that the arts can improve your personal well-being and even health outcomes.

No-one should miss out on this – but unless arts and entertainment venues are accessible, some people will continue to do so.

Making the right changes means a venue can become a fully accessible community facility, tap into the growing access customer market AND make a positive contribution to the community.

How to make your venue more accessible

Through Be. Lab’s work with arts and entertainment venues, we’ve identified four areas that you need to consider. These are:

  • Getting Ready to Go: your website and online booking systems, your printed material (business cards, invitations, programmes).
  • Arriving and Getting In: signage and wayfinding, accessible car parking and drop off zone, public transport options, accessible route into your venue, main entrance doors.
  • Getting Around Within: customer service and staff awareness, reception, sensory aspects, wayfinding, accessible route, communications, services, seating and table set up, accessible toilets and all other facilities.
  • Getting Out Safely: evacuation procedures, evacuation and alerting devices, staff training and awareness.

Once you've considered the venue, the next step is the accessibility of the performance itself. Auckland Live provide relaxed performances, sign language and audio described performances for many of their large scale events.

Auckland Live: A Continuous Improvement Approach to Accessibility

Be. Lab is proud to be working with Auckland Live on their accessibility journey. Auckland Live have identified a focus on customer service, the online booking experience and the physical experience of their venues.

Lauren Wetini, Be. Lab Project Lead, is excited about Auckland Live's approach:

“What I’m loving about Auckland Live’s approach to event assessments is they want us to go to the actual event and assess it on the day and with a particular emphasis on their customer service.  This will then feed into upcoming events at that venue.  The traditional approach is an assessment of the event plan prior to the event. While this is valuable, an on-the-day assessment means we are also able to assess how the plan is implemented.”

As part of this in-depth approach, we recently piloted a “mystery shopper” assessment at their Wintergarden venue. This is where one of our accessibility Coaches attends an event and goes through the entire process as a customer.

Our mystery shoppers were Be. Lab Coach Steve Taylor and his son Austin, who attended a show by the Modern Maori Quartet.  22-year-old Austin uses a powered wheelchair and has limited mobility. He also has autism and needs clear instructions and reassurance so that he always knows what is going on.

These were the key features that enabled Steve and Austin to participate and enjoy the venue:

  • An accessibility virtual tour on the website allows patrons to see the Wintergarden beforehand and was useful when booking tickets.
  • Drop-off locations are explained in detail on the website.
  • Overall, the website answered most accessibility questions about attending a show at the Wintergarden.
  • Accessible tickets could be booked online, with standard tickets allowing all members of a group to sit together.
  • Ushers greeted all patrons at the entrance to the Civic Theatre and were there to assist if required.
  • While there were some inaccessible aspects of the venue, courteous and helpful staff throughout the Wintergarden ensured an enjoyable visit.

Austin summed it up: “Overall, I had a great experience. The staff at the theatre were well trained to manage access customers without any fuss.”

Lessons learned

Steve and Austin’s experience shows that even when there are limitations to providing a 100% accessible experience (and there may be some aspects that are out of your direct control, such as working within an older building), providing accessible information on your website and great customer service makes a huge difference.

We’re delighted to see Auckland Live’s commitment to outstanding customer service, and continual improvement. It’s so very important- in fact our Access 2020 Research shows that the top two enablers of accessibility are welcoming customer service and accessible online information. (Read our full report here.)

The good news is this is this needn't be expensive, and is something any arts and entertainment provider can work on right now.

We have free resources available to start you on your journey:

Find out more about accessible customer service.

Read out top tips for accessible events.

To learn more about how you can grow your business and guest base by becoming more accessible, contact the Be. Lab team today.


+64 9 309 8966
Be. Lab Office
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Level 4
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Auckland Central
Auckland 1010

PO Box 874
Shortland Street
Auckland 1140
New Zealand