Audience facilities

The needs of a wide range of building users should be considered when designing audience and spectator facilities.

Audience and spectator facilities should provide a good acoustic and visual environment which is comfortable and convenient for everyone.

All building users will need to identify their allocated seats. This can be difficult when the lights are low.

People with hearing impairment need to be able to see interpreters and speakers easily in order to gather information from sign language and lip reading. This means good lighting and coordination of reserved seating and stage layouts.

People with mobility difficulties, assistance dogs, mobility aids, of large stature or who are pregnant may require more space than traditional seating arrangements will allow.

Wheelchair users will not want to be restricted to one location at a venue but have access to a variety of vantage points. These spaces should be paired with conventional seating to allow for a companion to join them.

Some wheelchairs may have high headrests which could interfere with the sightlines of those seated behind.

Some building users may need support when accessing steeply raked venues.

Where access to the stage is anticipated, facilities to achieve this for people with impairment is provided.

Those using accessible spaces should be able to make the same use of all the building's facilities as everyone else.

Design considerations

  • Ensure row and seat numbers are clearly visible when the lights are low.
  • Ensure seating is aligned, and not staggered, in tiered auditoriums so those who are blind or have low vision can safely navigate the steps.
  • Ensure good sightlines and lighting is provided and designated seat positions identified for people to see interpreters and speakers.
  • Consider the provision of some seating with additional space and easy accessibility from principally step free routes.
  • Ensure convenient storage space is available for wheelchairs and buggies. 
  • Locate wheelchair spaces (all accessed from step-free routes) around the venue and next to conventional seating. 
  • Ensure suitable loose chairs are available to fill empty wheelchair spaces.
  • Consider the location of wheelchair spaces in case high headrests screen the sightlines of those behind. 
  • Where the rake of seating areas is steep, provide hand holds, handrails and staff assistance.
  • Where access is anticipated from the audience seating to the stage, provide suitable steps and a convenient ramp (or a stage lift, suitably screened).
  • Ensure routes to and from accessible spaces within the audience link conveniently with toilet locations and all other available facilities. 
  • Furniture, fittings and finishings should contrast, and flooring surfaces should not be highly patterned or visually complex.

Building Code requirement

Building Code clause D1 Access routes:

D1.3.1 Access routes shall enable people to: (c) move into spaces within buildings by such means as corridors, doors, stairs, ramps and lifts

D1.3.2 At least one access route shall have features to enable people with disabilities to: (c) have access to and within those spaces where they may be expected to work or visit, or which contain facilities.

D1.3.3 Access routes shall: (a) have adequate activity space

D1.3.4 An accessible route, in addition to the requirement of Clause D1.3.3, shall: (a) be easy to find, as required by Clause F8 Signs, (b) have adequate activity space to enable a person in a wheelchair to negotiate the route while permitting an ambulant person to pass, (i) have handrails on both sides of the accessible route when the slope of the route exceeds 1 in 20. The handrails shall be continuous along both sides of the stair, ramp and landing except where the handrail is interrupted by a doorway.

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: