Friday, December 27, 2013

At The Movies

Yesterday I spoke with a manager about changes that have been made at the theatre he oversees.

Accessible space has been lost.

Easy access is gone.

They gave me one elevator to get upstairs.

And took away the space to get to it.

They've blocked the way with a snake line of walking people standing getting tickets. They wait impatiently, wanting to get to their leisure. I see them when we arrive and start praying that the movie I am seeing is playing on the first floor.

My prayer.

Like many of my prayers for access.

Is not answered.

I get ready to start begging strangers for space. They will have to back up, or step aside, or wait a moment. I have learned that this is too much to ask for. I have learned that little gifts of civility are saved for others more deserving than me. I feel their eyes weigh me. I see their faces judge me. I hear tiny whispers that come from minds shouting - diagnoses and assumptions - and each whisper sounds like:

lazy

slothful

ugly

But they move because I have learned to ask politely and proceed as if the answer is or will be 'yes'. Some cede space, allowing me to pass because they see the quandary I am in, they see the elevator, they see the lineup that blocks it, and because of those things they move quickly and willingly, some even smile letting me know they get it. Others cede space not seeing why they should, they don't smile, the move as if their limbs weigh more than they think I do, they back up as if they are an army retreating, as if they are losing something that's rightfully theirs.

I make the elevator but I am drenched in sweat.

I sit cold watching a movie that only one part of my brain can comprehend. There's too much noise. Noise raised by the part of my brain that worries about getting out. About being boxed in. About never getting home. Home will be dependant on the mood of other people.

I see him just as we are about the exit.

The manager.

I roll up to him and ask if I can talk about accessibility.

He sighs.

SIGHS.

As if this is a conversation that he's had before and doesn't want to have again. As if I am taking up part of his day with trivial complaints.

But I tell him.

About how the new layout makes me a beggar.

About how I have to plead and suffer through a gauntlet of prejudice.

About how once access was free. How those who have so much were given the only thing I needed - a little space.

He talks to me about space, and configurations and tells me why things can't change. He didn't even spend a moment thinking about how it might be made different, needs to be made different.

I told him that the conversation has left me hopeless.

Hopeless.

Bereft of hope.

He sighs again and tells me that he'll bring it up at a managers meeting. He looks to me for gratitude and finds instead my retreating back.

7 comments:

Liz said...

The manager's attitude makes me want to smash something.

Jeannette said...

The manager is an employee. A high-level employee, but an employee nonetheless. He may not have made the decision to change things. (He also probably didn't speak up on behalf of disabled access, but that's another story.)
Find out who owns the theater -- is it part of a chain? -- and go directly to the top.
Good luck, Dave. May The Force be with you.
And I just said a little prayer...

theknapper said...

And what about safety....2nd floor, no elevator if there was a fire.
He needs some better listenning, empathetic skills....as well as people above him who have an accessibility lens.....him too of course.

Andrea S. said...

On the topic of Dave's post: I guess mostly I just wanted to say that I relate so well to the fears and uncertainty that comes in any situation that forces me (and others) into a position where I know I'm only going to be able to access anything resembling the same range of options that other(hearing) people have if some combination of employees and other customers respond to me and my communication needs with patience and the willingness to try out modes of communication they might not be accustomed (for example reading/writing with pen and paper -- some people reading this would probably be astounded at how often people--and I mean, people who I know to be fluently literate--either cannot grasp the concept of pen/paper being useful back-up tools to ear/mouth in linguistic communication--or else do grasp the concept but become hostile when politely asked to please use them.

This is why I feel so much more secure in situations where my access needs are provided for. If I have been provided with a sign language interpreter (by the appropriate parties) then I don't have to just trust that every hearing people I interact with in that situation will have as much patience with haveing to repeat themselves or write something down for the 50th time as they do for the first. Not to mention all the time, energy, and patience it requires for ME to have to always communicate in some of my least comfortable modes of communication (lip reading in particular is a huge energy drain for me).

People often like to make claims to disabled people that surely anyone around us should be willing to provide any help we need. Often this comes with the implication that we're silly to be nervous about the possibility that help just won't be there, even in a large group of people capable of providing it. (I was once in a group of about 10 to 15 hearing people who could all sign--nothing near native fluency but certainly enough to enable my communication access if they had simply used what they knew. They all refused to sign or make any other effort to accommodate me because apparently they needed a "break" from worrying about communication.

I also relate to the feeling of frustration/infuriation of advocating for change, perhaps seeing some progress, then having all that taken away on a whim. As if our access needs were themselves all based upon whims.

theknapper said...

If you do write to someone, let 'US' know who, etc and we can add to the public outcry....but only if it seems useful.

Moose said...

I echo Jeannette. Owners are often removed from the day-to-day stuff. Find out who is above the managers and head there to talk. Even a corporate owned theater chain doesn't want to be known as inaccessible to the disabled.

jesse-the-k said...

I'm around your age, Dave, and I feel your pain, and the knot in the stomach, and the hunch of my shoulders, and the stiffness in my neck from looking up to talk with someone who simply doesn't believe I have something useful to say.

And it's the journey we've seen. From no access — to some lousy back-door access, to truly great designed access — and then back to "what, access?"

It's tiring.