Informal Assessment of Universal Access Refurbishment done at Artscape Theatre Complex, Cape Town, Western Cape and testing of Loop Induction System
Natalie Johnson

On Monday 27 May 2024 Western Cape Network on Disability embarked on an informal assessment of the Universal Access measures implemented at the Artscape Theatre Complex between 2020 to 2023.

Image: Outside (front) of Artscape Theatre Complex, Cape Town, Western Cape

The Western Cape Network on Disability was instrumental in getting the Artscape Theatre Complex more accessible for people with disabilities. The struggle started in 2012 when the National Council of and for People with Disabilities started the process to have an Induction Loop System installed. Western Cape Network on Disability was asked to assist in 2020/2021 and in 2023 saw the completion of Phase 3 which included the installation of the Induction Loop System for the deaf and hearing impaired.

The Western Cape Network on Disability was represented by Anthony Ghillino and Erica du Toit. The testing of the Loop System was done by Fanie du Toit on behalf of the Network. Jabaar Mohammed represented DeafSA.

Image: International Symbol for Hearing Loss

There are between 4 and 5 million people with hearing disabilities in South Africa who use hearing aids, assistive hearing devices, technology, or alternate methods of communication.

An Induction Loop System functions in a similar fashion to the FM System but with greater efficiency, enabling access to more users at any given time. An Induction Loop consists of a cable surrounding the listening area and a loop amplifier. The cable is connected to the induction loop amplifier. Persons with hearing loss sit within the induction loop area and set their hearing devices on the T-function to import sound and eliminate background noise. Those not using a hearing aid system or cochlear implant may also benefit from the system by using a receiver with induction loop earphones. The system is wireless, and listeners may move freely within the induction loop area.

Image: One of the venues at Artscape Theatre Complex where Loop Indusction System was tested.
Picture taken from back of room showing back of chairs in room with carpet with view of the front stage

The review of the loop system at the Artscape Theatre Complex was relatively successful. It certainly seemed to have achieved its goal which was to identify if there are any “dead spots” in the audience.

Jabaar’s hearing aid was not able to connect to the system as it is not a tele-coil, but rather connects via Bluetooth. One of Jabaar’s staff members was able to participate as her device was able to connect to the system.

5 areas at Artscape have been fitted with the Loop System:

  1. Opera House
  2. Theatre
  3. Innovations Room
  4. Chandelier Foyer
  5. The Arena

The Arena was not available and will need to be evaluated on another day. The Arena is a small venue mainly used for small plays and only seats about 100 people.  They were busy setting up for a production and it would have been chaos trying to test the system there.

Image: View of the wheelchair access space in the Opera House

After the assessment of the Loop System, Anthony and Erica had a look at the major changes made in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project. The recommendations appear to have been successfully applied, even though the bathroom door with the automated door remains a challenge for a user of a larger wheelchair to access. The wheelchair access seats in the Opera House look amazing now.

Phase 1 of the refurbishment was completed in 2020/2021 which focused on mobility impairments and Phase 2 of the refurbishment was completed in 2021/2022 which focused on the visually impaired.

Image: Group picture of all those involved in the testing of the Loop Induction System.
Picture taken with everyone on the stage in front of the room

Further work to be done:

  • Evacuation for people with hearing impairment – there are no accessible warning signs
  • Loop receivers – there are none for those who do not use hearing aids or Cochlear implants