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Increasing Accessibility in Children's Operas: ETO's Social Stories

23 Mar 2023

News Story

Seven sheets of white paper are scattered across a wood table. Social stories and pictures of opera sets are printed on the papers.

Widgit Symbols © Widgit Software Ltd 2002-2023

To increase accessibility in ETO’s children operas, on this spring’s Learning & Participation tour, teachers will be offered social stories® as accessibility resources to accompany ETO’s operas. This is the first time ETO has offered these resources to schools.

Social stories® were originally developed for autistic children, to explain what to expect in different social situations before they happen. These short stories use symbols and/or pictures to help the child envision the situation and prepare themselves for it. Though this accessibility material was designed for autistic children, it is helpful to any child that might struggle with their routine being disrupted by new and unknown events, such as children with anxiety.

In an accessibility pack given to every teacher on ETO’s schools tour, educators will receive three social stories®: “What is an opera?” “When the opera comes to my school,” and a plot of the opera.

One sheet of white paper sits on a wooden table. A social story explaining an opera is printed on the page.

Excerpt from "What is an Opera?" Widgit Symbols © Widgit Software Ltd 2002-2023

“What is an opera?” explains what an opera is, who is involved, and what movements and sounds to expect from them. “When the opera comes to my school” focuses on the events surrounding ETO’s visit to a school: who will be there, where it will happen, and how it affects the rest of the school day.

One sheet of white paper sits on a wooden table. A social story explaining what happens during an opera performance at a school is on the page.

Excerpt from "When the Opera Comes to My School." Widgit Symbols © Widgit Software Ltd 2002-2023

Also included in the accessibility pack are social stories® depicting the entire plot of the opera. These include pictures of each scene throughout the performance, so students can understand what to expect and alleviate any anxiety of not knowing where the story will progress. Additionally, for students that need longer to process information, having already been exposed to the plot may allow them to better enjoy it in real time when the performance happens.

Two white sheets of paper sit side by side on a wood table. Printed on the papers are pictures and social stories explaining the plot of Zoo! the opera.

Excerpts from "The story of Zoo the opera.” Widgit Symbols © Widgit Software Ltd 2002-2023

ETO’s social stories® were made in partnership with Widgit, an educational software program used by both mainstream and Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) schools across the country. By using symbols that SEND students see in their curriculums every day, these social stories® communicate in a helpful and familiar way.

Although an opera visiting their school may be exciting to some students, others may be anxious about what might happen in the story, or how this event would affect the rest of their day. By offering teachers a pack of social stories®, many students will be able to prepare themselves to enjoy ETO’s visit to their school!

English Touring Opera will be sharing a limited number of public performances of both The Wish Gatherer and Zoo! Tickets are available here. If you would like access to any of these social stories® in preparation for a public performance, please contact

All social stories® were written by ETO’s Learning & Participation Assistant Producer Maddy Barnes, using Widgit symbols.

The term “social story”® is a registered trademark of Carol Grey.

“Widgit were pleased and excited to be approached by ETO to support the accessibility of their Operas in school and were happy to support the organisation with the use of existing and specially drawn new symbols. The use of Widgit symbols within the social stories and sets, ensures that the curriculum is made accessible and inclusive for all children and fits entirely with Widgit’s aims to support people to realise their full potential, regardless of age, ability or background” -Widgit