Reading lips in low light

Dad and Mom and I were on our way to a play at a theater. It was billed as a “one-woman play” about accepting those who are differently-abled. We were running late.

Usually, we plan to get to a theater at least 15 minutes early, so that Dad can find the lights-and-sound person and learn about any assisting devices they might have for the hearing impaired. The best places have a system that beams the sound from the microphones straight to his hearing aids. This is rare. However, many have some sort of amplification system he can use. He has to take what he can get and hope that he can understand enough to enjoy the show.

This time, we were so late, Dad opted to forgo this process and just sit down. We found out later what a mistake that was.

It turned out it wasn’t really a one-woman play. It was one woman, all right, but she didn’t act in the way I am used to in a conventional play. It was closer to a live radio show. The actor stood at the microphone and spoke for two hours with humor and poignancy. She told about her daughter’s special needs and the family’s search for doctors’ help. She used different voices for different characters, embellishing the humorous parts with exaggerated tones of voice.

Mom and I were so wrapped up with enjoying the play that we didn’t notice what Dad was going through, sitting next to us. We didn’t find out until the car ride home what he had endured while we were being entertained.

He hadn’t been able to understand a word of it. Because of the low light, he had been unable to see the woman’s lips, so he didn’t know what she was saying. He had sat there, in the dark theater, for two hours, struggling to get something from the show, and failing. He was frustrated beyond belief.

In the car on the way home he vented that frustration on Mom and me. He raved. He questioned why the lights had been so low and stated that they must have known that it would make the hearing impaired in the audience unable to understand. He went so far as to say that they turned down the lights on purpose so he couldn’t understand.

Dad’s a rational guy, and in his usual state of mind he would know this was not true. But that night he was simply frustrated out of his mind at the world that does not accommodate his needs and his disability.

I don’t know why he sat there, patiently, silently, that whole time. I don’t know why he didn’t quietly leave the theater and ask the manager to turn up the lights. I’m sure they would have tried to make it so he could enjoy the play. Maybe he felt that wouldn’t be polite. Maybe he didn’t want to make waves. Maybe he’s just met so many people who don’t understand how debilitating hearing impairment can be, and thus are unwilling to accommodate him, that he has stopped trying.

And this is all something Dad experienced at a play about understanding different abilities, of all things!


One thought on “Reading lips in low light

  1. Val, I hope you will send a copy of this post directly to that theatre, and possibly also to the Opinion page of the Boston Globe. Theatres need to be made aware that any and all equipment and technology which they can offer to the disabled must be EASILY obtained, without having to go in search of a manager or technician. Headsets or adaptors should be clearly displayed in the lobby, as they are in most museums and many churches.
    I’m so glad you’re blogging again! I’ve missed your posts!

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