Russian circuses will become more accessible for sightless and visually impaired viewers

Audio description: a coloured photo. Striped tents of a traveling circus are put up against a twilight sky. They are decorated with flags and string lights. Above them there is a signboard reading CIRCUS.

Visiting Russian circuses will become more comfortable and convenient for sightless and visually challenged guests. These venues will be made more accessible thanks to Circus By Touch, a joint inclusion project of The Russian State Circus Company and Special View program supporting people with visual impairments (based on “Art, Science And Sport” Charity Foundation).

Cooperation agreement was signed by the parties’ representatives in Russia Today International News Agency press centre. The signing took place on Maecenas and Benefactor Day, a couple of days before Circus Day (which falls on April 16 this year).

Fatima Mukhomedzhan, the director of “Art, Science And Sport” Charity Foundation, Tatyana Bushkova, deputy CEO of the Russian State Circus Company, Arina Sharapova, president of Artmediaobrazovanie Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization, Yelena Khabarova, Gubernsky theatre actress and audio description specialist, and Svetlana Telitsyna, director of Wise Dog club took part in the press conference.

Through this project Russian circuses will be provided with audio description equipment, and their performances will be adapted for sightless guests. Circus employees will be trained to work with viewers with special needs.

“A parent or a child should not be shut out of a family event just because some things are unavailable for them. That is why we are doing our best to make maximum number of cultural venues accessible for sightless and visually challenged persons. <...> Going to a circus show is always a family pastime, always a holiday, always plenty of wonderful emotions”, says Fatima Mukhomedzhan, the director of “Art, Science And Sport” Charity Foundation.

At the initial stage of the project, it is planned to adapt shows of five Russian circuses, namely those in St. Petersburg, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Saratov and Nizhny Tagil (according to preliminary calculations, about 15 thousand visually challenged persons live there). In the future, the project is going to be expanded to other Russian regions.

“We believe that circus art has no boundaries, it speaks in the language of the entire world and must be fully available for everyone”, points out Tatyana Bushkova, deputy CEO of The Russian State Circus Company.

Yelena Khabarova, theatre actress and audio description specialist, says that within this project her colleagues will have a solid piece of meticulous work ahead of them. “It is essential to describe the setting, the costumes, all the actions, and in circus it is always something unbelievable, it is always something more than theatre”, audio description specialist adds.

“Audio description is a chance to see, understand and internalize everything that is going on at the arena, all on your own. <...> Audio description helps to immerse oneself into the atmosphere, the space, and most importantly, to feel as if you are a part of this grand event”, says Svetlana Telitsyna, director of Wise Dog club (it should be noted that she herself is a sightless person).

According to Svetlana, sometimes an audio description specialist comments on things that are happening onstage in such detail that a sightless viewer gets information a sighted person may inadvertently miss. “Sometimes [during a theatre performance] I can understand the story and everything that is happening in front of me even deeper and more comprehensively than a sighted person sitting next to me. <...> But maybe it is true only in cases when we are on equal terms. When people have prepared audio description in advance. <...> When [audio description is prepared] at a professional level, it makes every viewer an artist. And it is [crucial] to broaden our horizons,” Svetlana explains.