Ticketing arts and cultural events is full of complexities. A single performance may have any number of date options, priority booking, a multitude of different ticket types, pricing offers and packages. 

Ticketing software companies have been working hard to obscure the complexities of ticketing and improve the user experience of booking tickets online. 

Whilst there have been some improvements in recent years, there is still a long way to go when it comes to making ticketing accessible. 

What is accessibility?

Accessibility ensures that no one is excluded. 

Digital accessibility makes it possible for people to use websites and digital products regardless of the technology or devices they use to access it.

Assistive technologies such as screen readers are essential to blind and visually impaired people. 

However, assistive technologies do not make your website accessible. They require websites to conform to a set of standards in order to function properly. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) detail how to make content more accessible so that users of assistive technology, blind and visually impaired, D/deaf and disabled audiences can use the internet independently. 

Accessibility and the arts

Arts and Entertainment websites have an average of 57 accessibility issues on their home pages. This was found in WebAIMs annual accessibility analysis of 1 million home pages. 

Accessibility issues prevent audiences from being able to interact with your website, engage with your content or purchase tickets, memberships or shop products. 

Given the inherent complexity of ticketing, it’s perhaps unsurprising that accessibility issues exist throughout the ticket buying process too. 

Many arts organisations have adopted similar strategies and introduced ‘Access Schemes’, requiring disabled users to register in advance of booking tickets. 

However, many Access Scheme registration pages have accessibility barriers that may prevent audiences from being able to register. 

These barriers include: 

  • Requiring users to download PDF forms and return evidence by post. 
  • Colour contrast issues
  • Structural and content issues preventing usage by screen readers and keyboard users.

This means that the very audiences these schemes are intended to help are unable to access them. This needs to change. 

Five ways to improve the accessibility of ticketing

  1. Provide clear accessibility information up front and throughout the ticket buying process

Give people the information they need up front. 

In the 2019 Euan’s Guide access survey, 83% of respondents said they would be more likely to visit a venue if they can find relevant access information. 

In the same survey 41% of respondents said that if access information is not available, they would avoid going to the venue at all. 

Your audiences need to know about the accessibility of your buildings, information about toilets, changing facilities, bars, companion policies, what to expect when they arrive and the most appropriate tickets to buy for performances with captions, British Sign Language (BSL) or audio description.  

Don’t make people hunt for this information, include it at each stage of the booking process.

  1. Stop using colour as the only way to convey ticket prices and availability

There are almost three million people who are colour blind in the UK and 300 million people around the world are affected by colour vision deficiency. 

Colour coding content should never be used as the sole way to present information online. 

Many performance listings indicate availability using a traffic light system, which on its own is useless to anyone who experiences colour blindness. 

When using colour to convey information, ensure this information is available through other methods such as a text description, e.g. “More than 100 tickets available”, “Only 10 tickets remaining”.

  1. Update your seating plans

Seating plans need to communicate a lot of information. 

It’s helpful to give context about seats when people are booking. Is there step free access? Where are the closest toilets? Is it a long walk to the exit? 

When faced with the option to choose seats, users are presented with hundreds, sometimes thousands of symbols representing seats. 

This can be overwhelming for sighted users, but for keyboard-only users and screen reader users navigating through 1000s of seats from start to finish is an incredibly poor user experience.

One approach to simplifying the user experience is to create groups and subgroups that allow users to narrow their search before selecting rows of seats and individual seats. For example, after selecting ‘Stalls’, then offering options to further filter to ‘front stalls’, ‘rear stalls’ or ‘side stalls’. 

  1. Provide ways to get in touch with a member of staff

The prospect of missing out on an experience because you can’t find what you need can lead to frustration. Ticketing on-sales can be stressful for both box office staff and for ticket buyers. 

Include ways for customers to get in touch immediately, both a phone number and Live Chat. 

Web chat provides D/deaf audiences with an alternative to using a phone, a more immediate and manageable communication tool than email. 

Often the need to call or live chat is a last resort. However, by speaking to your customers you can learn what information is missing or outdated on your website and resolve this.

  1. Involve disabled people in your usability testing

There is no archetype. No two users are the same. 

Users with physical and cognitive impairments will each have an individual experience in using the same website. Users of assistive technology often highly customise their devices and assistive technologies to suit their individual preferences. 

Being compliant is not the same as offering a good user experience. It’s imperative that you gain feedback from your audiences. 

To ensure that your website is accessible to everyone, test with everyone. Ensure that disabled, visually impaired, blind, D/deaf and neurodivergent audiences are represented in your usability studies, and that you are gathering and acting upon feedback. 

How to get started?

Accessibility is not a checkbox task, nor a feature. Accessibility is something that should be considered on an ongoing basis when creating content and developing new features. 

To understand the current situation the best thing to do is conduct an accessibility audit, then make a plan to remediate any issues based on priority.

About the author:

Caspian Turner is a Digital Accessibility Consultant and Director of Accessible by Design. He has over 12 years of experience working in the arts, culture and technology sectors. Before starting Accessible by Design, Caspian held roles at Substrakt, Tessitura Network, Southbank Centre and Glyndebourne. More updates on his channels @caspianturner and @access_designed

Image credit: Yomex Owo via Unsplash