The Lowdown | Broadway and the Autism Theatre Initiative Make Shows More Accessible

April is Autism Awareness Month. To recognize the theatre leaders who are making sure people on the autism spectrum can enjoy Broadway shows, we’re shining a light on a special initiative that makes theatre accessible to everybody.

For years, Broadway theatres have been accessible for people using wheelchairs. Captioned or sign language-interpreted performances are available for people with hearing loss, while audio description services help audience members with vision problems enjoy a show. But up until recently, people on the autism spectrum who want to attend Broadway shows have had few options.

Seeking to fix this need, the Theater Development Fund Accessibility Program launched the Autism Theater Initiative in 2011. The initiative helps productions make slight changes that preserve the show’s integrity, but make the experience comfortable to people on the spectrum.

“Some sound and light cues are modified to be less jarring to the sensitivities of folks on the spectrum,” Victoria Bailey, TDF’s Executive Director, said of the adjustments. “House lights in the theatre are kept on at about 20 percent.”

The changes extend beyond the stage. Within the theatre lobby areas, special activity areas and quiet areas are set up in case someone needs a break during the performance. The restrooms are also converted into “family restrooms.” In addition, 30 to 40 volunteers are placed throughout the theatre to help any audience member who needs assistance before and during the performance. “It’s about creating an environment and experience where everyone can enjoy the show no matter where they are on the autism spectrum,” Bailey explained.

 After five years, the program now presents four autism-friendly performances of Broadway shows each season, including Aladdin, Matilda, The Lion King and Wicked—all shows represented by The Broadway Collection. The April 24 matinee performance of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of The King and I completes the Initiative’s fifth season—appropriately, just as Autism Awareness Month draws to a close.

 More Information

In March, TDF and The Broadway League launched Theatre Access NYC (, a new website designed to assist theatregoers with disabilities in finding accessible performances of Broadway productions. “The Broadway League and TDF work together on many projects,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, recalled. “As the TDF programs for accessibility were getting more visibility, the League began to receive more calls from members and theatregoers about issues of accessibility and how to find out what the shows were doing. There wasn’t one central place that was easy to find and user friendly that included all information. Both organizations agreed that it made sense to develop a new website together, using the most up-to-date technology and processes to curate all industry information in one place.”

 Since launching, Theatre Access NYC has helped get the word out that these special performances do exist “to people who either need them or know someone who does,” Bailey said. The site links to a page on TDF’s site where interested people can sign up to learn when future autism-friendly performances are announced, and when they may purchase tickets.

 “We would hope that, in time, that more shows would have regularly scheduled autism-friendly performances,” Bailey said. “The need is clearly there, since these Broadway performances often sell out hours after tickets are put on sale. Additionally, TDF has been asked to consult with theatres both in the United States and internationally on how to present these sensory friendly shows—so the idea is certainly catching on.”



In December 2014, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time became the first non-musical on Broadway to host an autism-friendly performance. The play—about a young math genius on the autism spectrum—has won raves (and several Tony Awards®) for putting audiences inside the mind of a person with autism.