A Tale of Three Movie Theaters: Audism and its Reversal
I officially started this blog with the intention of using it to focus on issues related to the reunification of the broader Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests last fall. That has expanded to include general diversity issues in the Deaf (and deaf) community(ies), including deafblind people, racism, Deaf on deaf (and deaf on Deaf) audism, etc.
For a change, I’d like to speak off topic. (I’m entitled, it’s my blog 🙂 ).
Like many Americans fortunate enough to have a reasonable supply of disposable income, I occasionally go to the movies. As a Deaf person, of course I only go to movies that have captions.
Once I can find a movie that I want to see that has captions running at a time compatible with my sometimes busy schedule, I usually have no problems. I go to the theater. I purchase the ticket. If it’s an open captioned movie, then I’m all set: I go into the theater, sit down, and enjoy. If it’s one of those movies with the Rear Window captioning device, then I pick up my reflector then proceed as above: go into theater, sit, enjoy.
But sometimes I run into problems. On two separate occasions at two separate theater locations, I took my seat in the theater only to find that the Rear Window device was broken, or at least non-operational. (On one of these occasions, it actually seemed to break shortly after I sat down. On the other occasion, I arrived to find it already broken.)
Needless to say, this was upsetting. I had gone to the trouble of arranging my schedule to be at the theater instead of at some other location pursuing some other enjoyable activity. I had paid for the tickets and the food.
But, more to the point: even in a large, metropolitan city like Washington DC, the movie viewing options for Deaf and hard of hearing people are extremely limited. If you check the movie listings (and, yes, the movie pages in your metropolitan newspaper SHOULD indicate which movies have some form of captioning available), maybe two or three movies will be available with captioning at two or three locations in the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area on a given day. This, out of dozens or hundreds of movie and location options offered to hearing people. Also, the window of opportunity for seeing any one, given, specific movie are generally few and often narrow. If you miss the window, you may miss seeing that movie altogether. I completely missed seeing a certain Harry Potter movie (I forget now which) because it was available in DC only ONE time in its entire run, for exactly two days. And I had conflicting plans those two days.
On some days, I feel like I shouldn’t get too upset about this kind of thing. It is really a very, very, middle class luxury to be able to AFFORD to get upset about missed opportunities to see a movie. Poor people can’t afford to go to the movies, period, whether captioned or not. For one billion people around the world who live on less than $1 a day, life is a daily struggle for survival–whether you’re deaf or hearing. For another 1.5 billion people who live on between 1 and 2 dollars a day, life still isn’t pretty. Movies don’t even come into the picture. So if I can afford to sit around and write a whining blog entry about non-accessible movies, then I’m pretty darn lucky.
On other days, I still get (guiltily) annoyed, both for my own personal inconvenience and just on general principle. Deaf people have the same rights to enjoy public services–and, yes, middle class entertainment–as other people. If I am one of the fortunate few people on the planet who actually have money to spend on luxuries like movies, and if movies are made available to my similarly wealthy hearing neighbors, then these same movies ought also to be available to me. (If you have enough money that you can afford to go to the movies AND still have three full, reasonably nutritious meals a day, then you’re wealthy by global standards even if you’re not wealthy by rich-country standards.)
Digression aside, let me get back to my story. On both of the aforementioned occasions, I had to miss the start of opening credits to find an employee to complain. On both occasions, the people I encountered were apologetic and cooperative. They tried their best to fix the problem on the spot. But they couldn’t. They pleasantly compenstated me. (On one occasion, they gave me a full refund for both my ticket and my food. On the other occasion, they gave me two free tickets for any future movie at that chain.) For one of these, I was able to see the same movie on another night after they repaired the Rear Window device. For the other, my schedule did not permit me to return.
This afternoon, I had a third encounter with caption-related problems at a theater. My (hearing) partner and I went into DC to see an open-captioned movie that was supposed to be shown at 11:50 am. We were astonished to find upon our arrival that the open captioned movie was now announced as being at 3:30 pm. My partner had plans to go out this evening. And we also had to do the laundry today. Our original plan had been to come to the 11:50 movie, then squeeze in laundry after getting back home, timing it to complete shortly before time for my partner to leave again. There was no time to go home, do the laundry, and come back to the theater and still allow my partner to attend her evening event. If we had simply known the movie had suddenly been rescheduled to 3:30, then we could have planned to do the laundry before the movie instead of after. Although the movie is playing through Thursday, today was the only day that suited both our schedules.
So I complained to the ticket lady. She politely sent me up to talk to the manager. I had a speech planned in my head. I was going to point out the extremely limited movie-viewing options available to deaf people generally. I was going to explain exactly why missing a particular movie time slot does not always mean simply that we have to come back to the theater another time. For a deaf person far more often than a hearing person, it may mean missing the movie during its entire theater run. I didn’t think they’d be able to solve anything on this particular occasion. But I wanted to at least ensure that they understood that sudden changes in movie schedules creates disproportionately MUCH greater annoyances for Deaf people (and deaf and hard of hearing people) than they do for hearing people.
We got to the manager. I barely finished getting the first sentence or two out of my mouth when the manager apologized AND immediately fixed the problem. She explained that a mistake had been made on their end of things. And she promised that she would ensure that the 11:50 showing WOULD use the open captioned version of the movie. So we bought the tickets, bought our food, and sat down. And, yes, they showed the open captioned movie, and we enjoyed it.
I’m not clear if this was a mistake in the scheduling posted on the web, or a mistake posted on the listings at the ticket kiosk, or what. But whatever: they admitted the error. AND solved it on the spot.
Lesson learned: Sometimes it does pay to (politely) raise a complaint when accessibility fails, including up to manager level. If they can’t fix it, they should at least return your money. Or you may get lucky and find that you end up with no problem at all.
(Want to go to the movies, too?: Regal Cinema has open captioned movies in various locations across the United States, usually in or near major cities. Or, for information on theaters equipped with Rear Window captioning, see www.mopix.org)
[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to diversity within the Deaf/deaf communities, or to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]