Report of Abuse

This a tongue-in-cheek account of a not uncommon experience of a blind person in public.

            I’d like to report abuse.  Abuse of the blind, in fact, and more specifically, of me.  At the city theater of all places, a theater that is so accessible and sensitive to the needs of blind patrons that they have 1 audio-described performance a run of every show in their season.  (At this show the theater also projects closed captions for members in the audience who are deaf).  I recently attended such a show.

            Those in the audience blind are given a receiver with an over-the-ear piece.  A describer sits in a back room where she can see and hear the show and supplies the visual details, all the nonverbal bits in the play that the blind person can’t see.

            City Theater also gives us Braille programs and an hour-long workshop where the director of this outreach program gives costume details and describes the set.  Then the actors come onstage and introduce themselves and recite their opening lines to help us with voice recognition.  What could be better?  It’s an amazing service that I can’t say enough good about.

            Until this recent performance.  Halfway into the play, Grumpy, behind me, shoved me in the left shoulder.  Immediately, I worried that my receiver was on too loudly, so I reduced the volume.  No more shoves.  But I’d hardly reduced it, because it was on very low to begin with.    Maybe the guy simply bumped me with his bony knee.

            Three-quarters of the way through, however, Grump struck again.  He shoved harder.  This was no knee.  I no fingers when they jab and bruise my skin.

            I couldn’t mistake his meaning.  I couldn’t turn around and confront Grumps, because I was in the second row, three feet from center stage.  We were in the very small theater.

            I turned the receiver off.  But I didn’t know what was happening onstage.  More and more, plays are multi-media-ish, and words and pictures were being flashed on the screen, and much was happening silently because the audience, including Grumpy, was howling. 

            Why had I turned my receiver off?  I paid for my seat the same as Grumpy.  I put it back on.  The heck with him.

            At the end of the performance, I stood and reached for my cane, intending to swing at Grumpy—just kidding. 

            “Oh,” he said to my sighted husband, “Is your wife blind?  I didn’t realize she was one of the blind people in the audience.  Sorry.”

            Another faux pas—he spoke to my sighted husband because he couldn’t make eye contact with me, me of the fashionable sunglasses, I have to admit.

            Now I’ve been abused before.  Probably a year or two after becoming blind, I went to “La Boheme” with a friend.   I leaned to my left and asked her a question—in a very soft whisper.  “What’s going on?”

            She explained in a less quiet whisper.

            Suddenly, the man in front of me hauled off and slapped my leg hard enough to propel it into the orchestra pit.

            I wouldn’t let my friend translate for the rest of the opera.  I just enjoyed the beautiful music.

            But my friend is one of those 4’10” wonders.  She caught the guy’s arm and explained, “She’s blind.  I was simply explaining what was happening.”

            “If she knew the music, she wouldn’t need an explanation,” he said.

            So there.  No opera aficionado me.  And again, “she,” speaking to my sighted companion, not to me.

            From then on, I’ve tried diligently to be a quiet audience member.  My husband practically crawls into my ear in plays and movies to narrate the silent parts.

            But with the accessible player describing the non-verbal parts to me, his aid was unnecessary.  My husband of the perfect hearing—his doctor recently complimented him—said that the receivers do emit a bit of sound, but no one can hear the words.  Probably a dozen blind people were in the audience sitting beside sensitive sighted people.  I was the only one who got belted.  Two blind patrons had their guide dogs with them.  I’ll bring Flossie next time and turn to Grumpy and pleasantly say, “Please, don’t make me have to tell my dog to K-I-L-L.”



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Sophie Gadgets June 05, 2012 at 10:46 AM
Sometimes despite all the accessible features that are installed in a venue or community the attitude of one person can all but ruin an experience for someone attempting to access their surroundings. Whether it is the person who parks in front of a ramp so a wheelchair user can not access it or when someone who can hear sits in front of the sign language interpreter blocking the view for the deaf audience member - accessible features are only effective when the person needing the service actually has access to them. There are many theaters around the country that have been upgraded to enhance the experience of patrons. However, too frequently patrons who do not use these accessibility features fail to respect or understand why they are needed for their fellow patrons with disabilities or physical limitations. As a deafblind theater patron and citizen this less than positive experiences while trying to enjoy a day at the theater could have been made enjoyable if she could have been allowed to freely access the accommodations in place. Life could be so much better for everyone if only we were more thoughtful neighbors.


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