Stepping Out in a World of Sound
One time in a dark theater—when I was using a small flashlight to see the script and follow the onstage dialogue—a patron with extraordinary perceptive abilities accosted me. “The light is bothering the actors!” he exclaimed.
Perhaps he was in cahoots with the irate gentleman at another performance who told my friend—who had been silently oral interpreting—to stop talking. The interloper wouldn’t listen when we tried to explain, and everybody ended up annoyed.
While these experiences were frustrating, they certainly haven’t stopped me from attending shows and enjoying other public events. I am not about to let the ignorance of others get in the way of doing what I love. Period.
I’m happy to report that, as the general public becomes more informed and accommodating to the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing, so do venue operators.
Sitting closer to the stage is always beneficial when attending live theater; seeing performers’ lip movements and facial expressions contributes to my enjoyment. If I’m using a script for guidance, oftentimes the light from the stage means I don’t have to use a flashlight. Naturally, I request a script with enough advance warning, and always promise to return it immediately.
Unfortunately, sitting near the front usually means higher ticket prices. Some theaters understand this is an accommodation and offer a discount or average ticket fee.
Depending on the performance, I might request Computer Assisted Real-Time Captioning (CART); an interpreter is another option. Some theaters in a handful of cities have open captions, or will have performances that are sign interpreted. Information about these services can be found via a general Internet search, or you can check the Theatre Access Project (TAP) for a complete listing of accessible shows, and the type of support provided. As America continues its slow but steady march toward widespread looping, some theaters may even offer that service.
The lack of captioned movies at theaters will soon be a thing of the past. Many theaters have Rear Window Captioning (RWC), but typically this means restrictive viewing times. Some theaters are moving towards CaptiView, a system featuring a display on a bendable support arm that fits into the cup holder, receives captions wirelessly, and means more choices.
Currently, there are some theaters—such as Cinemark—that already have captioning in their theaters. Regal Movie Theater has plans to implement nationwide captioning in its theaters by the end of 2013. Other chains are also making the move toward accommodation.
To look up the availability of captioned movies in your area, CaptionFish is a good online option. If your theater has captioning, get an email address for the manager and establish a relationship. If you don’t have captioning in your area, get a group together and contact the theater. Write to studios to request more captioned films. Show them that their business will increase with this audience.
If there’s a movie you really want to see, and no theater is offering a captioned version, you might consider the “Subtitles” app, which allows easy access to a library of movie subtitles and enables you to go to any movie theater. My friend Michael Janger, a New York City resident, is a proponent.
“It’s been great for those times when I missed out on open captioned or RWC showings and want to see them in theaters before they go to DVD,” Janger says. “Hunger Games, for example. I’m jonesing to see it this afternoon and there are no more OC showings, so I’m going to flash out my iPhone for this one.” Janger cautions that the app has to be manually started.
When it comes to watching movies at home, the lack of uniform captioning for streaming video is an ongoing problem. Until it’s resolved, Phlixie—a website that enables users to search for streaming, captioned movies—can be a big help
My friend Lindsey Rentmeester started running a couple of years ago. A Nashville, TN resident, Rentmeester is an audiologist working on her Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Sciences, and is also deaf. “I like being able to hear when I run, so taking [my hearing aids] off is a last resort measure for me,” she says.
The South’s humidity requires additional safeguarding. “A recent addition to my collection of gear has been neoprene hearing aid covers (they come in all sizes, for CIs too) and they add an extra layer of protection from the sweat and grime,” Rentmeester says. She calls the purchase one of the best investments she’s ever made. Water resistant hearing aids and CIs are also now available for anyone participating in a potentially wet sport.
Besides climate considerations, those with hearing loss need to accommodate their need to be social while being active. For example, people like to talk while running, which can be a helpful distraction during a hard workout. Rentmeester’s ability to enjoy this aspect has been complicated by her hearing loss, but she has some tips.
“I always run on the left side or in front of the person I’m conversing with,” she says. “I run in front as opposed to behind because sound projects forward. Smaller groups, particularly one other person, are better for following a conversation.” Rentmeester, who is also an rock climber, asks her climbing partner to wear an FM transmitter to help them communicate effectively, regardless of position.
Group sports—for both adults and kids with hearing loss—come with their own set of challenges. Listening to the soccer coach while on the field might sound like a nightmare for some, but an FM system can provide the kind of technological support that may make a difference. Communicating with teammates takes another set of tools, which include using hand signals and running plays.
When I travel alone, I’m proactive. I tell the gate agents about my deafness. I find out what time boarding begins, and ask that they physically come and get me. Despite this, people often forget, so I make sure to stay nearby, and I always pre-board.
Tina Childress, an audiologist in Champaign, IL, is a late-deafened adult and a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. When it comes to flight check in, she advises to not put CI equipment directly onto the conveyer belt, into the plastic bins, or through the checked luggage scanner, as this can affect the processor or map. Hearing care professionals agree, and recommend keeping hearing aids or CIs on while walking through the metal detector.
If you’re traveling alone, inform your seat partner, and employees like the flight attendant or train conductor about your hearing loss so you don’t miss important announcements. Flight tracking apps and airline status texts also come in handy during travel and can notify you of any changes.
Whether the destination is a theater, an airport, or the finish line, it’s up to each of us to be our own advocate in the world. This is my mantra: When it comes to play, let nothing stand in my way. As a matter of fact, I already have tickets to see “Book of Mormon” next year!