Sunday, March 24, 2013

We're Off to See The Wizard: A Heart, A Brain, An Accessible Seat

Before you read this, I want to be clear that this post is about ME and MY REACTIONS not them and theirs. It will begin looking one way and then veer quickly another.

We went to see the Wizard of Oz at the theatre and I went - tense. I've had so many bad experiences at the theatre or the ballet that I attempt to emotionally prepare for the, what seems to be, inevitable. We got there and Marissa, along with Ruby and Sadie, went in the front entrance, at my insistence. There is an impressive set of stairs and I figured it would be well decorated for the theatre, I didn't want them to miss out because of going in the back way with me. And, I turned out to be right, they had a giant ruby slipper that the girls had their picture taken with on their way in.

We went round back and up a tiny elevator to the lobby. First worry over, we're in. Then we were let in a first so we could make our way down to our seats. The aisle down was set at a fairly steep pitch and when I saw that the space was equally pitched, I knew I'd not be able to stay. I could not set in my chair titled at such a degree. In fact, I can't sit on a pitched forward floor for any length of time at all. I said something to the usher who was taking us to our seat. There were others behind us and I felt their presence as they waited, not being able to get by me. I kept asking them to go by, the kept standing there. I realised, suddenly, that I have to move to get out of their way, I do, they go forward.

The usher is showing me these two little bits of wood. I'm to drive up on them and that would get me positioned right. It didn't. In the end there were three people who worked at getting something jerry-rigged for me to get into place. As they were doing this, assuring me that they'd figure it out, they did it quietly, never speaking loudly or doing anything to draw attention to the issue or the problem. At one point I found that it was my protest about not being told, when I described on buying the tickets of having a large power chair, that I'd be expected to steer up onto two small pieces of wood. In the end they managed a system that got me level.  I was in place. I knew that I'd not be easily able to get off them and go up to the lobby for intermission and I secretly gave thanks that I'd wrung my bladder out before coming to the theatre. I would be able to make the time.

In the end it only took less than 10 minutes to get it all arranged. None of the staff were ever anything but respectful. They steadfastly did what they did without making a show of it. They guarded my privacy and my anonymity as much as they could. Anyone who looked would have wondered what was going on, but they'd have had to initiate the look in the first place, no sound would have pulled their gaze. Ushers came and went silently and assisted and planned with me quickly, efficiently and quietly.

I found it difficult to not layer this experience with every other bad experience that I've had when going to the ballet or the symphony or the theatre.  I found it hard to treat these ushers as distinct and different from every other set of ushers that I've had to deal with. I realised I went in expecting to have to get mad to get my seat, to have to protest some barrier to the performance. It was hard to push that away and actually SEE the support that I was getting. Kind, efficient and quiet. Just what I want.

Did this affect my enjoyment of the show. No. It didn't. And that's what's important. I knew going in, and the information was on the website, that the theatre was very old, that there was a back entrance, that the seats were 'made' accessible not 'designed' accessible - I knew all that. But what I now find myself doing is dragging baggage into the theatre. The ushers may have thought me overly difficult at times but they wouldn't know that 96% of the time I go to an event like this there is an issue of some kind. I wasn't dealing with 'them,' I was dealing with 'them' as representatives of a long line of 'thems'.

I said to one of the more management types. That I worry that the girls are learning that when they go with 'Dave' there will always be a problem or two, that they learn to see my disability as something that 'always needs to be an issue.' And I do worry about that. I don't think the woman entirely understood - as I don't think that many non-disabled do. But, had I chosen to see this as a completely different set of issues with a completely different set of people, I could have had the girls see this as a 'problem solving' experience, not a 'problem having' one.

So, I need to detach the baggage from my chair. All it carries is resentment anyways. I've learned other tools from these experiences.

I should use those.


Anonymous said...

I am happy to hear your theatre experience went well and you were able to enjoy the show :)

As for the baggage part. Of course you would feel that way if that is what you have experienced 96% of the time. That 96% is the main reason why individuals affected by disability DON'T venture out into the community. They are treated like an inconvience vs. an individual who might need some support and accomodation to fully enjoy an experience. A comfort many of us take for granted.

Our daughter is affected by Autism which also includes a hypersensitivity to some sounds such as loud announcements over a PA system, buzzers going off at hockey games, the sound the cash register makes as it scans items- beep, beep,beep... the list goes on. Most people can understand this on some level... while others think it's something that she can just 'get over'. Baggage... if she could check her baggage at the door... if society could see the internal baggage she carries... everyday- into every environment she visits perhaps there would be more 'ushers' like you experienced at the theatre.
It is the baggage we carry today that will open doors for other individuals who will come after us...

Auntie Em: "Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us." ;)

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Always, I am stunned by and grateful for your honesty and your self-awareness.

This is a quiet, thoughtful post. Thank you for it.