A Good Start to Accessibility

The Signature Theatre hosts one open captioned performance per production. The process to organize such a show is one that involves funding, planning and negotiating. Because we are so used to a world that defaults to ableism, accommodation often requires an extra effort and money.

I am still learning the ins and outs of the procedure that lead up to an open captioned performance. But, while attending such performance of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, I witnessed an ecology that consists of technical materials and minor decisions that have major impact.

Immediately outside of the elevators leading to the theatre’s cafe lobby was a sign stating that the performance was open captioned. Just beneath the title and date of the play, it reads, “For audience members who have hearing disabilities, open caption performances feature an electronic text display which shows what actors are saying or singing.” The sign is a reassurance to attendees like me who purchased tickets specifically for the accommodation and a reiteration to attendees who may not have paid attention to the type of ticket they purchased. IMG_1527

I headed to will call to grab mine and my friend’s ticket. As the employee handed the envelope to me, I asked him if the tickets were seated together. For the open captioned performance, a selection of seats is set aside specifically for audience members that will depend on visible captions to understand the play. These seats are selected according to where the “caption box” is displayed. In an effort to keep such seats open for those who needed them, I contacted the box office requesting to be seated on the last seat of the captioned section so my hearing friend could be seated to my left. The employee kindly pulled the tickets out of the envelope to confirm that the seats had been arranged as requested.

To the right of will call is a separate wooden stand where attendees can pick up an Assisted Listening Device, also referred to as an ALD. On top of the wooden stand were two more 8×10 signs: one that simply let attendees know ALDs were available and another that listed basic instructions for using the device.


The designated employee asked for my ID as she pulled a device from the stand’s back drawer and placed it in front of me. “Do you wear hearing aids?” she asked. The question was mindful, as many individuals who are hard of hearing may not actually have or like to use hearing aids. After confirming I did, the employee explained to me that an induction neck loop was available to stream the amplified dialogue directly from the amplification device into my hearing aids.


As I have had bad experiences with such loops, I agreed to take the loop only on the condition that I also be allowed to take headphones for backup. The employee agreed and wished me an enjoyable show.

As I turned around, I noticed a line of mostly senior citizens forming behind me. I realized it was possible that I was the youngest individual with a hearing loss in the space. It was equally possible I was the youngest individual with a hearing loss who actually wanted the assistive device.

After finding my designated seat, I scanned the stage for the caption box. The black metal, bulky box stood on the ground, stage left, just outside of the set.  A black screen with neon text read, “Welcome to Signature Theatre.” As the play began, I switched my hearings aids into loop mode to see if the induction device would work. It looped but still, the sound was so low in my hearing aids I found it useless. As to not disturb those seated next to me I discreetly removed the loop and put on the headphones. By the time I was situated, a few lines of text had started showing up on the box. The live text is pre-programmed to match the actors and on-stage sound effects as best as possible. For the performance, my eyes darted from the box to the actors in the center of the stage and back again, over and over and over. I kept my thumb on the dial of the amplification device to lower it when music burst into the headset and higher it when the actors spoke without background noise. My right ear began to ring, confused by the sudden changes in tone, and a migraine started to form. Still, I fought through because I loved the performance so much. In my head, I kept reminding myself, any accommodation was better than no accommodation.

I finished the play, generally pleased. Unlike non-captioned performances, I understood the plot from start to finish. Although many lines were delayed in their appearance on the box, I was still able to catch what was said and make sense of it all. As I went to return my device, numerous other ALDs had already been returned. The materiality of the pile was striking as it assured me there was a sizable audience in need of accessibility. It was not only comforting to know there were others with the same plight as me but also motivating to see the physical, technological evidence of the call for access. IMG_1546 I was grateful for both the performance and the collaboration of the theatre in documenting my experience for this class. But, as I step away from the high of being given a bit of accessibility, I recognize there is, of course, still a need for improvement. The performance included screens that very much could have displayed the captions instead of the small box outside of the set. The headphones were flimsy and in need of an upgrade and a process to test the induction loop ahead of time would have been helpful. Writing these criticisms out make me feel uncomfortable and ungrateful but keeping them to myself would demonstrate how often individuals with disabilities settle. In our struggle to access life the same way abled individuals do, small victories feel like the world sometimes. But being vocal and initiating an ongoing conversation will continue to make access a priority rather than an afterthought.


~ by dleelopez77 on March 3, 2019.

8 Responses to “A Good Start to Accessibility”

  1. Best Overall because the pictures of the closed captioning assistance matched up to show the same thing you were describing in your writing, giving me a fuller sence of your experience

  2. Most Affective: Once again, you take your readers on a journey that is so personal and thus so deeply felt. We share your joys but we also share your confusion (though of course as outsiders looking in, perhaps there’s something voyeuristic about that, but that’s another day’s discussion). When you say that “any accommodation was better than no accommodation”, that really struck a chord about what explorations into disability and ability are about – how do we track progress without being complacent of it, taking it for granted and ultimately just ceding to “some is better than none”?

  3. Most informative– the repeating symbols and equipments that suggest hearing aid accessibility efficiently inform your audience what your subject is about. After reading your story, and following your journey in the Signature Theater, I felt very informed of the environment— from the signs in the space, to your conversation with the designated employee— I felt like I was with you in the theater without going there.

  4. This was the most informative post to me because of the way you describe the different methods the theater used to be accessible and the ways you interacted with them, from the loop with your hearing aid, to the headphones, to the captions. You paint a very clear picture.

  5. Best overall.
    You literally get audiences into the place you traveled, it’s so personal and also informative in regard to the whole situation. Moreover, I the photos and the texts cooperate very well, which makes the post so detailed and I do get so much information even I had never got to know those people in real life. Moreover, I love the photos that have you inside of them, which make me feel really engaging and personal.

  6. Most affective: Your personality reflects very strongly through your voice and transports the reader to the theater. The last couple of lines of the third to the last paragraph stood out the most for me, makes me feel that I can almost feel your part disappointment part exasperation

  7. Most informative.
    You offered very detailed information about Signiture Theatre and all the proccesses you went through. All the little things, such as the ear loops, are painted thoroughly. Your photos, also, offered so much information. I see captions in your photo, which perfectly present us how the services work.

  8. Most informative: Your detailed descriptions about your experiences as well as about the use of this technology made me comprehend your ecology on these two levels. Your narrative helped to me situate myself in the scene and understand better your experience.

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