Friday, July 18, 2014

Exclusion: It Hurts

Part Three

After the pre-show everyone who had bought premium seating returned to their ticketed seats while the people waiting in the lobby streamed into the theatre. Ruby and Sadie sat in the raised chairs beside me, Joe in the row in front. We watched as the theatre filled from the front. As it was to be an interactive show everyone wanted to be as close as possible. The theatre was not full and this meant that when everyone was seated we were in the back corner, as far back as you could be, and the next four or five rows, right straight across the theatre were empty and all the seats in front of that were full. I said to Joe that it looked like we were being punished. And, in effect, we were being punished for needing to use accessible seating and for the accessible seating being in the very back row.

I was concerned that Ruby and Sadie wouldn't have a fair chance to be picked to go up on stage as I knew they both wanted to be. I spoke to a woman, I think she was an usher, and asked if the performers on stage would even know we were back there as the kids wanted a chance to go on stage too. I couldn't believe the rudeness of her tone as she said, "Then they need to jump up and wave just like all the other kids." She stomped off. Ruby and Sadie were not like all the other kids. The reason? Because they were sitting with a wheelchair user in the very back row, farthest from the stage. Even if they did cartwheels the likelihood of their being seen was zip.

I knew the woman was upset because, or I assume it was because, she thought I was asking for special privileges for Ruby and Sadie. I wasn't. I really wasn't. I was asking for equal consideration. That's all. I knew that our seating took them out of consideration for any possible participation in the show itself.

I spoke to another woman, this one in a suit. She told me that very few of the children would be given a chance to go on stage during the show so that they all had a slim chance. I pointed out that this was exactly what I wanted. Right now every other kid had a slim chance while Ruby and Sadie because of our seating had NO chance. She said she would speak to someone from the show about my concern.

When she came back by me I called out to thank her, she ignored me, I thought she hadn't heard. I spoke again, she near shouted at me, "I haven't spoken to her yet!" I didn't who who 'her' was but I knew I was seen as a problem. I hadn't kicked up a fuss, I had only quietly asked that the kids get the same chance as everyone else. I didn't want them excluded because of where we were. This simple request was met with rudeness and with dismissiveness. No one actually cared enough to see my point. More than that I was made to feel like a bother for doing some quiet respectful advocacy.

The show began. A couple performers with puppets did come all the way back for Ruby and Sadie, I don't know if this was because of my request or because they simply saw us across the barrier of empty seats when they were coming up the aisle. When it came time to call children up, the host, predictably called from the seats closest to the front. At no point, not even once, did she look up to where we were seated. Not once. We were invisible to her.

This is what Ruby noticed.

She and Sadie both jumped up and waved to be picked.

But it was fruitless.

They couldn't be seen.

They were out of contention.

And it was noticed.

When it was over Ruby was really disappointed. NOT because she didn't get to go up on stage, but because there hadn't even been the slightest chance that she'd be picked. As I was giving her a ride home, she said to me quietly, about the host, "She didn't even look up where we were." She felt that exclusion, deeply, and was hurt by it.

Me, I was angry.

At the situation.

And at myself - it's hard not to be self loathing or self blaming in these moments. My need of accessibility had hurt a child that I loved. My needs had made it impossible for her needs to be met. As much as I knew none of this had been my fault, as much as I had tried to advocate for equal consideration, it didn't matter. For a few seconds, or maybe a minute, I hated being me and I hated being disabled and I hated needing what I needed.

I reviewed in my mind the facts: I hadn't asked for them to be picked, I'd asked for our situation to be understood. We took the only seats we could, we paid top dollar for them, and we were punished and excluded primarily because I had needed accessible seating. Those facts brought me back to my senses. I pushed the self anger away. It took a solid shove to do it, but I did it.

As we rode along I talked about the good things about the show and talked about how much we laughed. I wanted to try and make it all better. I could have my own thoughts, I just wanted a happy child in my arms. Ruby cheered up as we talked.

But she knew what I was doing.

We got home and she turned and said to me, "It wasn't fair. It's supposed to be fair."

It is supposed to be fair.

Isn't it?


Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Yes. Yes it is.

This was an uncomfortable three-part read, Dave. I squirmed because I KNOW that this is exactly how it is for so many people. And for many years, I don't know that I would have noticed.

I'm sorry, for all of it.

Moose said...

It would be nice if people realized that disabled people don't want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere. In the name of "accommodation," accessible seating is generally put where it is simply easiest. Often there are ways to put these seats somewhere reasonable with a little effort and expense, with no change to safety, but why bother when they can just do it cheap and easy? Disabled people aren't really people, and they're not going to complain, right?

I will never forget the time I went to a concert with a friend. The reserved seats we had were unusable by me, so they offered to switch me to the accessible area. It turned out to be as far away from the stage as you could possibly get. There was no reason for it to be there. There were plenty of ways they could have made an accessible area closer to the stage, but it would have taken some effort, so they didn't bother.

The crown of the evening was my friend looking at where I'd be sitting and telling me, "Well, *my* ticket says over there, and you can't see anything from here. I'll see you after the show," and went back to the original seats.

I don't really think of that person as a friend anymore.

Emma said...

I understand the frustration and hurt,and the exclusion of being a wheelchair user, but I dont think this is a disability issue this time. I used to work in touring theatre and some of the shows were interactive shows for kids. The people up on stage have very poor visibility of the audience because of the stage lighting and the design of audience spaces, thats why they pick from the closest rows because thats as far as they can see. If you had all been seated in the back rows of the rest of the audience then the girls still wouldnt have been noticed. Thats why with larger shows theres often someone going up and down the aisles to pick kids from further back than the front two rows. And its also why we used to liase with box offices in advance to find out if there were any specific requests for kids having a birthday or having special needs and requesting to be picked that time. But for every child whos picked theres a bunch that arent and some that'll be upset by that, so theres never a way of doing it thats "fair" to everyone.

If our performers had been told there were some kids up in the back wheelchair section who were concerned they wouldnt be noticed then we'd have made sure they were waved at and acknowledged at some point even if they didnt end up getting picked to go up on stage, and theres no reason this couldnt have been done here if the ushers had passed on the information.Performers are usually pretty accommodating if the grumpy gatekeepers allow information to get through.And its rubbish that they didnt here, but I dont think its fair to call this experience unfair to the girls on the grounds that youre a wheelchair user.

Because not being noticed in an audience is something that happens to a lot of kids, and a lot more, like my own son for many years, dont live with familys who have the money to take them to these shows in the first place. Your girls are lucky,fortunate and priveleged in many many ways. and thats great, thats how it should be for all kids, but its not how it is for many many kids who have a much lower fairness quota as their default.

Fair is relative and not fair is an experience we all have to deal with and learn how to handle well, because otherwise our expectation of fairness will trip us up and cause us distress over and over. The girls didnt get noticed when it was time to pick kids to go up on stage, but they did get the premium tickets that allowed them to meet the dinosaurs before the show which none of the kids with regular tickets got, and they did get to see the show which all the kids who werent taken by loving adults didnt. So in this instance theyre not actually being disadvantaged by you being in a wheelchair are they, theyre just not getting one small extra that most of the other kids there werent either. And to repeat what I started with, if stage lights were on then the performers wouldnt have been able to see *anyone* further back then the closest rows.

Anonymous said...

My need of accessibility had hurt a child that I loved. My needs had made it impossible for her needs to be met.

With deep respect, Dave, and with zero intention of discounting your feelings, I have to push back against this. Your needs didn't hurt her or make it impossible for her needs to be met. The self-centered, willfully short-sighted attitudes of the able-bodied adults responsible for presenting the experience are what caused the hurt.

Please, please, don't internalize the negative effects of other people's selfishness and thoughtlessness. You exist. You have a body and occupy space. You have needs. None of that is bad or wrong or harmful. People being hateful to you because of it, that's harmful.

With much respect and affection from a virtual stranger thousands of miles away...

Princeton Posse said...

Fair? Fair...don't get me started. Everytime someone tells me that "life isn't fair" gets my retort, "Well, if you know it isn't fair, why aren't you doing everything in your power to make it fair?" Teeth grinding...errr. You did that Dave, you tried to make it fair but circumstances conspired against you. Hats off to you for trying.

Anonymous said...

I hope you mailed a copy of this to the theater - and your local newspaper.

You tried, respectfully. You paid extra - a choice - and got little for it.

Those in charge need to know.


Liz said...

The way you were treated by the theater is horrifying. (((Dave)))

Anonymous said...


you are a role model for me, in how you manage difficult social situations!

" For a few seconds, or maybe a minute, I hated being me and I hated being disabled and I hated needing what I needed. " And somehow this sentence from you reflected so much of my own feelings, when I am overwhelmed and feel that my disability gets in the way of my life and my plans.

You made me feel that others/you "share this burden" and maybe someday it will make these situations easier to handle because I can establish more self esteem.

Hugs Julia

Mary said...

Emma, I think this *is* a disability issue.

Every other family who paid the premium price got to sit right up at the front.

Dave's family paid the same premium price and were sent to the back for no other reason than that the theatre would not accommodate a disabled person as a premium patron.

You are quite right that only a few kids will get picked.

But it's like paying £5 to have your name put in a hat for a prize draw - and then being told "actually, thanks for your money, but we're withdrawing your name before we pick the winners. You can watch everyone else get excited about whether they might win, but you're not allowed to play."

At the very least, you'd want your £1 back. And when you say "why wasn't I allowed to be in the draw?" then in a country that aspires to equality of opportunity there should be a better answer than "because you're disabled."

Emma said...

Can people really not see that this experience is not "horrifying" simply on the grounds that we all like Dave? It damages our cause for equality when theres no distinction made between actual disability issues and the normal bad experiences that EVERYONE has.

Is the "accessible seating" in this theatre poorly designed and positioned? Yes. It often is and thats an issue we need to speak out about and get changed.
Were the usher people rude to Dave when he as a wheelchair user tried to get closer to the stage during the pre-show? Yes. And thats something that warrants complaint, and a letter suggesting staff training on disability respect and access.
But is it a disability issue that two priveleged little girls didnt feel they had an equal chance of getting picked to go up on stage during the show because of where they were seated? No. It really isnt. The majority of kids in the audience are in the same situation, seated out of the line of sight of those doing the picking. And most of those kids didnt have the premium tickets that let them meet the characters before the show.

"My needs had made it impossible for her needs to be met."

This childs wish to be picked out of the audience is NOT a "need". Her disappointment that she wasnt seen because of where she was seated is not a terrible tragedy or a hurt that she needed to be protected from. Disappointment is an ok emotion for a child to feel.And its normal for loving adults to feel terrible when they cant get everything perfect for a child they care about, but thats the adults problem of unrealistic expectations and self flagellation for not being good enough. Its not an accurate summing up of whats gone on or its long term effect on the child.

Penelope said...

I'm sadly unsurprised. I love theatrical shows of all types and get so annoyed when I get stuck with a crap view just for the theater's convenience. I'm a little more forgiving for theatres that are in buildings which are old enough that making the hanges really could be problematic, but I've also been to an old Broadway theatre where none of the spots for wheelchair users are in the back (the entire orchestra is ramped, as well). Regardless, there's absolutely no excuse for staff being rude and treating patrons who need accessible seating like they're a problem.

One thing I really want to emphasize is that YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. The problem is with the theatre's formation, and even moreso, the staff (and some other patrons, although the staff could have prevented those issues). Blaming yourself is, to be frank, victim blaming.

If nothing else, I hope you got names of the people who treated you so badly and are able to actually name them in a written complaint. How they treated you is so beyond appropriate that I can't even describe the level. I don't know that I'd even go up a normal chain of command, but go straight to the top as high as possible. If there's a board of trustees, you could get the names and probably send it to every trustee. It's their problem to deal with. Since you could get down near the stage, they probably actually could create spots for wheelchair users that are more integrated with the entire audience (and that allow a wheelchair user to sit in the premium seating). They might lose a few seats, but I'd expect them to gain more patrons. I've never heard of a theatre that didn't need or want more patrons.

In response specifically to Emma, I think you've missed Dave's point with regards to the actors picking kids. Because the only wheelchair accessible seating was far in the back, they weren't given equal *access* to being picked. From Dave's description, the entire audience (not just the people in the premium seating) was much closer to the stage. He's not looking for a guarantee that they get picked, but the ability for them to have the same chance as the rest of the audience. The fact that they'd paid for the premium package and received part of that package is not equal access. Equal access would be having at least one spot for a wheelchair user as part of the premium seating so they'd have access to the entire package. I'm not even sure buying the premium package was much of a choice if the girls wanted to see much of anything detailed about the characters. Most accessible seating is not only far from the stage, but physically separated from the rest of the audience. They could have split up the group and left Dave on his own, bu if you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know Ruby & Sadie would not have accepted that option. They want to experience shows with both Joe AND Dave. They, and all other patrons who have a wheelchair user as part of their party, *should* be able to do that without sacrificing the options, at minimum, in seat location given to parties without a wheelchair user. Ruby and Sadie are very much aware that life isn't fair and that it happens to be be even less fair for most disabled people. That doesn't mean they or Dave or any other disabled person needs to accept it as part of life not being fair and move on. If disabled people did that, we'd all still be in institutions or hidden away at home and be even more limited in public activities. If you'd like a further discussion about how theatres could improve their access for parties with accessibility needs from someone with theatrical experience, you can e-mail me through my Blogger profile page.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi, thank you all for the lively discussion. In my mind, and this is how I decide it, something is a disability issue if only a person with a disability could write about it. That experience was unique to those in disability access seats, everything flows from that ... the consequences of being in those seats are up for fair comment, in my mind.

Erika said...

I'm a mom of two kids with two different disabilities. I have to go with Emma on this. Life isn't fair in soooo many ways - money, racism, physical abilities, mental abilities, having a family at all.

Could your event have gone better and been 'perfect'? Better, yes, perfect, no such thing. I think you missed a different kind of teaching moment here. Teaching gratitude vs (I hate to use the word, it sounds more harsh than I mean) whining.

"Yes, honey, it wasn't quite fair. But the kids on the sides up front weren't very visible either. And there are many, many kids who never get a chance to come see this show at all. So did you have fun? I really liked the blue dinosaur."

and maybe
"There are pros and cons to everything. You know how you like to ride on my wheelchair? Most of these kids never get to do something like that. But with every upside, there can be a downside too."

Occasionally my son with hearing loss will start to complain it isn't fair he has to wear hearing aids. I tell him to count his blessings, everyone has challenges. He's super smart whereas his sister can't keep up with her peers.

If someone tries to feel sorry for my daughter with Down syndrome, I stop them in their tracks. I tell them she has a GREAT life - an extended family of over 20 people that all love and adore her. She goes on no less than 4 weeks of vacation a year.

The situation wasn't right, your advocating was admirable. But don't let yourself cross the emotional line of starting to feel sorry for the little girls. Creating the expectation that life will always be fair or go their way is how prima donnas are born.

By all means write a letter, even have them help you write it if you feel appropriate. But then open their eyes to other ways in which life isn't fair.
How could they help someone else who doesn't have it fair? Maybe draw pictures of the show and take them to a nursing home with few visitors? Maybe they could put on their own mini show there for people who can't get out?

Much happiness and peace to you! I find so much wisdom in your posts, I hope I haven't overstepped in speaking my mind here.

Amanda Forest said...

Dave, I'm so sorry this happened and that all these people treated you so badly and probably made you feel like you didn't deserve to be there. But thank you for writing about it. They deserve to be called out for what they did. I have loved your writing for 5 years and it has helped me a lot as a disabled person and a support worker. Thank you for everything.