“Let me see your ticket,” the usher demanded at a popular Broadway theater. We (my husband and I and our two friends) were waiting in line so I could pick up an assistive listening device for the show.
“This device won’t work at your seat. You’d be better off using your hearing aids” the cranky attendant barked.
“But my hearing aids won’t be enough. That is why I need the device.” I replied with some confusion. Aren’t the devices supposed to work everywhere?
“This won’t work at your seat,” she repeated.
A moment of silence ensued. The attendant and I stared at one another while I contemplated my next steps. Would I allow her to dismiss my needs this easily? Not a chance.
“Well, I’d like to take one anyway, just in case it is helpful,” I replied. Worst case, I figured I would stick it in my bag to return at intermission.
“Do you know how it works? You will need to remove your hearing aids.” she snarled skeptically.
“Yes, I have used devices like this before.”
“You will need to remove your hearing aids,” she repeated as if I were a misbehaving child.
Finally, and with much reluctance, she handed me the device and we headed to our seats.
Condescending Attitudes toward Hearing Loss on Display
My husband, friends and I were shocked at her rudeness. I use assistive devices at the theater all the time. None had previously come with a lecture. Coincidentally, the woman standing behind me was seated in the row behind me. Apparently she had a similar experience with the usher but decided not to take the device. She was also astonished by the woman’s attitude.
It turns out that the attendant was correct. The sound quality through the headset was worse than I was getting through my hearing aids, but that was no excuse for her behavior. Instead of copping an attitude, she should have been apologizing for the theater’s false promise of accessibility.
If management knows that the provided listening devices don’t work in certain parts of the theater, why isn’t this noted when we buy our tickets? And more importantly, why don’t they upgrade the system so that it works appropriately? How can they allow their accessibility efforts to fail?
While I love attending theater, sometimes even my best laid plans fail. But there is no excuse for a dismissive and condescending attitude about hearing loss. Can you imagine someone who is blind or who uses a wheelchair being treated this way? Neither can I.
I have reached out to the theater to complain and eagerly await their response. When accessibility fails, perhaps it can become a teaching moment instead.
Readers, are your hearing loss needs dismissed at the theater?