A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

Why Isn’t There More Deaf Access to the Live Stage?

In Accommodations for Deaf, ADA, captions, Hard of hearing culture, Hearing Loss, Life on February 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Every once in awhile it happens.  A simple invitation to dinner and a movie, or out for drinks with a group of friends  sends me into a tail spin of self pity.   This time it was a play.    Normal people- hearing people– enjoy these things.  I can’t.  After nearly forty years of hearing loss you would think I would have accepted it.  Most the time I’m fine.  Please.  No lectures about the fact that I AM normal.    We are ALL normal.  Hearing loss is normal.  LOSS is normal.  What IS normal???

I have a hearing friend, one of the few who has stuck by me while my hearing has dwindled over the past several decades.  We’ve raised kids together.  Somewhere along the line we started going to the opera together to get away from the kids, and for the past umpteen years we have had season tickets.  Now we sometimes take our kids when we go.  Because of the visual stimulation of the stage and the fact that most major opera houses offer subtitles, the opera is a unique experience for hard of hearing and deaf people rarely found in live stage.


“Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings”.  ~Robert Benchley

Most every opera is performed in a foreign language.  It’s a great equalizer.  For once  everyone else needs the subtitles too!  The fact that I can go to the opera– ANY opera– without requesting special accommodations or equipment means the world to me.  It makes me feel normal.  I don’t have to get there early and drop off my license in exchange for special equipment or remember to pick up my license before leaving. I don’t have to sit in a special spot in order to see the subtitles.  I can arrive and sit anywhere.  If the subtitles malfunction, I am not the only one complaining about it during intermission.

To be honest, I don’t  hear opera music all that well anymore.  I have lost most my high tones.  If there’s a good tenor or baritone, I’m down with it.  A good baritone can make me tremble, but otherwise it’s all about the stage set, costumes, and story.  It’s really all I have, and I’m hanging on to it to the bitter end.  It’s also a social thing, a tradition to be carried on with a friend.   But to be honest, because I have lost most my high tones, if I were to choose a type of music it would have to be rock or country, because both of those genres are heavier on the base where my tones are better.

I only bring that up because it points out the lengths I will go to enjoy a live stage experience.

So last week my friend, I will call her Debbie, sent an email to ask if I would like to see something different for a change.  She and a friend were going to a musical at a small theater in Seattle, and she wanted to know if I would like to come.  I had seen posters around town for it myself, and had been thinking about it.  Heck yeah!  I’d love to, I thought.  They were open to any day, any performance.  They really wanted me to come!

Three of the major theaters in Seattle now offer captioned a few performances with Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART) for every production.  I went to the theater website to see if I could find a performance with deaf access.  Nothing.   I looked at their web page to see what they said about deaf access.

“2011 Season ASL performances
Dates TBA
Please contact the Ticket Office for more details”

Apparently there were no plans for ASL performances in the near future, and there was no mention of Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription at all.

I considered emailing to ask for CART, but I knew it would mean a huge fight, and I just really wasn’t up for it this week. Maybe next time.   It’s been twenty years since the ADA was signed and we‘re still battling for access.  Why?   Maybe part of the problem is that people like me are not willing to fight every time we want something.   Maybe we need to be more feisty.  Maybe I have become lazy, because I have gotten used to the ease of having subtitles at every single opera, every time without having to ask.

Or maybe I’m just tired of being deaf.

(For a list of live theater programs in Seattle with CART for 2011, go here.  Also, do not forget that the Seattle Opera subtitles every performance, every time!)

  1. We invite YOU to join the CCAC today :-). Membership form on our website, http://www.ccacaptioning.org; theater captioning is one of the big topics under discussion; we call it a cap – a captioning advocacy project.

    Never give up.
    Thanks for your blog too!
    CART = Communication Access Real-time Translation; and varieties of this acronym used in different places too.

  2. Maybe a huge part of the problem is deaf people wanting to portray the issues of deafness ? this would be a killer in stage hire terms, and they would be worrying about rights and access laws, long before they could consider whether the actor being deaf was suitable or not. Have we made a rod for our own back by being so introspective about ourselves ? If we insist we are special cases, then how can we be treated as ordinary ? Risking your wrath, deaf seem to not be interested in ‘mainstream’ things to get involved in them. I read many deaf sites and hearing involvement is pretty dire, and much made of ‘deaf-only’ arts… I think sign detracts, sorry ! It would offer distractions to the main event for hearing people,who would then look upon the deaf actor as someone ‘included’, the term inclusion is not then seen the same way as we might see it, but as access for the disabled or something.

    • MM- I hear you, but we need to CHANGE that. I dropped the ball this time. I’m not going to drop the ball every time. I think just writing about it makes a difference. The other theaters in Seattle provide both ASL and CART. They run billion dollar businesses. It’s hard to pretend they’re hurting so much that they can’t provide access for a few Deaf AND deaf people. What the smaller theaters do not realize is the business they’re turning away when the access isn’t there. Whenever there’s no access our friends and family end up choosing something else along with us. In these times, I submit they really cannot afford NOT to do everything they can to attract new patrons, especially older ‘baby-boomers’ with hearing loss.

  3. I can only relate that ‘deaf theatre’ here is attended by a select few and not really available outside major cities. Mainstream theatres, would more turn up because more deaf or disabled are included in them ? Most inclusion is viewed ‘minority’ media. We see via television, endless complaints when signers go in-screen, it may deter more people turning up not encourage, I think like yourself this is bad attitude, but is the reality we face. Who are the MOST successful actors deaf ? I’ll risk wrath again and say mostly ONLY Those who don’t sign or those who appear hearing. I’ve watched 16 plays/films from the UK last year. Near every one was PANNED by the deaf themselves, if they do ‘deaf media’ for a few, it’s great, if they go on mass media they are shot full of holes via criticism for not promoting deaf people. Head actors win, tails they lose. Was it not Marlee Matlin being an excellent lip-reader that swung it for her ? would she have succeeded with ASL alone ? I think many do not want to entertain the question.

  4. Good points about the Deaf, MM, but that is not my fight or yours. We are both late-deafened. While I support the Deaf in their fight and I respect what they do, my needs are different. I speak English and I am oral. My husband also needs captions as he has been losing his hearing for the past ten years. Going to ASL interpreted plays is not realistic for us. We’re in our fifties, we live and work with people who speak. You don’t become fluent in a language over night without immersing yourself in it. We don’t have the time or the inclination– or the motivation for that matter. None of our friends use ASL. Since the vast majority of people with hearing loss speak, it seems reasonable to request CART, and in fact our American Disability Act mandates that we be accommodated that way, because ASL is not our language.

    As for the public complaining about the distraction of ASL interpreters or words across the screen, well. . . they used to complain about handicapped parking spots too. Now they accept it. In our hearts we know it’s right that people in wheel chairs shouldn’t be shut in just because they can’t walk. The more exposure the public gets to Deaf and deaf out in public enjoying a play or movie, the more used to it they will become.

  5. I so agree with this last comment you have just said Kim. I’m same as you late deafened. Been deaf since 2002. I’ve tried BSL but could not manage it fluently, but would still like to learn it. But as most people know, I have no one to sign with, so how am I supposed to keep it up?
    But in the meantime if I’m going to see something, it has to have captions, just like I would, when watching the tv at home or a dvd.

    The more exposure the public gets, yes they will get used to it, because my boyfriends son has got used to it. He thought he wouldn’t, and his comment once was I can’t watch tv with subtitles. I said they are not for you are they. They are for me otherwise how am I supposed to follow. Now its like they are not even there.

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