So today as always there was a problem with the audio-description headset I always try to get now at the cinema.
I'm used to this. More often than not, they don't work. I'm okay with most movies anyway -- I mean, I went to them for the first 33 or so years of my life without even suspecting such a thing could exist -- but action-y kind of movies are the hardest for me to follow and, being the last person in the world to see it, I'd heard so many good things about Ghostbusters
that I wanted to get all the goodness out of it that my sighted friends had so enjoyed.
We'd already elicited confused looks from the ticket seller and the ticket checker at the AMC Great Northern when we asked about audio description, but along with his hot dog and ice cream and Coke, Andrew came back from the concession stand with headphones for me.
"Is it working?" he whispered at me as the film companies' logos came on the screen at the beginning. He too is used to it not working -- and doing the legwork for it, bless him. He gets in for free with my CEA card
and he takes his responsibilities as my carer in this situation very seriously. Plus he'd already seen Ghostbusters
on his own (twice!) so I didn't feel bad about sending him out when it transpired that I'd been given the headset which just replicates the film soundtrack, which helps some hard-of-hearing people, rather than the audio description I benefit from as a sight-impaired person.
When he sat back down next to me, he said the projectionist he'd spoken to had said, upon realizing what I wanted, "oh, we don't bother with that, no one ever asks for it."
I'm having a tough time lately: even the smallest decisions to be made or smallest changes to plans have left me absolutely frozen. I'd been unable to cope with a rail replacement bus, or choose a drink from the options at a small shop, in the last couple of hours. You get the idea.
So having just sat through the first scene of the movie, which I hadn't been able to follow (if Andrew hadn't told me what happened in it, because we were running a bit late and weren't sure if we'd miss it, I wouldn't have had any idea what was happening because I wouldn't have known what to watch out for) thus leaving me eagerly looking forward to my audio description to make the rest of the movie an easier, richer experience for me: even when I can follow movies, it takes a lot more energy than getting the help of AD, and as I believe I mentioned I'm pretty low on energy lately!)
And now I wasn't going to get it. Because they can't be bothered. Because no one asks.
I was upset. And then I was angry. And then I couldn't decide which I was more of. I wanted to get out of there; I was feeling ill at the thought of coping with a couple of hours of this. I wanted to find someone to shout at. I wanted to kick things.
I ended up in tears. Quiet ones, but Andrew still noticed and offered sympathetic squeezes. I sat tensed up in a little ball, arms protectively crossed in front of me.
I didn't shout at anyone or kick anything. I'd paid for this and I'd been so
looking forward to Ghostbusters
. It wasn't one of those times when I've gone along to something I'm indifferent to because someone else is excited about it or just something to pass the time. I'd already felt left out because most of my friends had seen it, and everyone had wanted to talk about it. I'd listened to and read all their words, but I didn't feel I could join in.
And now I still couldn't feel like I was joining in properly.Because they couldn't be bothered.
It was a long time before I unfolded my arms, before I could smile -- much less laugh -- at the jokes. I did laugh and I did enjoy it, but that's a sign of how great the movie really is as far as I'm concerned. Even when I'd relaxed a little, I felt a little ill and anxious to be out of the cinema, so the whole movie seemed tainted for me. Anything less good might've been ruined entirely. I was already convinced I'd have to go back -- not just to see it again like some friends have done, but to feel like I'd seen it at all.We don't bother. No one asks.
Yet I'd asked. How was I supposed to process such an answer?
We didn't stay for the post-credits scene. Much as I'd enjoyed myself, I was desperate to get out of there. We talked to a manager, who gave us a couple of free tickets and vouchers for popcorn, but what good is that to a cinema I can't trust to bother
with the likes of me? The manager assured us this problem had been mentioned to the techie people, but I have no means of knowing how, if or when it will lead to proper implementation of their obligation to provide available disability accommodation. She'd told us the projectionist Andrew spoke to was new and he shouldn't have said what he did. While I agreed that it wasn't a professional answer, I was quietly almost grateful for that because it revealed something I was sure this manager would rather we didn't know: how people really think. How they act when they don't think anyone notices. It's far more useful in getting an understanding of the extent and nature of a problem than a carefully-worded, "correct" response full of the right words to cover a company's asses.
Andrew and I came back home and tweeted about it. His tweet thread starts here
and mine here
. Andrew, who tagged AMC in some of his tweets, of course got a reply from them asking him to take it to private messages, but he wasn't interested
We're both less interested in calling out the particular cinema than we are in calling attention to this, to how much more audio description could be used and appreciated than it is -- as I say there, I didn't even know it was a thing I could ask for until about a year ago, and I'm sure that's true for plenty more people who would benefit from it, too (especially because lots of sight loss is gradual and sort of "under the radar" because people are uncomfortable thinking of themselves as partially sighted or don't know that these resources would benefit them...the way that I used to think things were for "proper" blind people and not for me. Subtitles and other adjustments for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are poorly-enough implemented, appreciated, and recognized as useful or just a thing that exists, but audio description lags way behind even that.
This is what I mean about the social model of disability
. It might sound crazy but it isn't my lack of sight that disables me. I could imagine a world that worked in such a way that I would find it as more or less as easy as any sighted person to get around safely, to get and keep work, to read books and watch films and use technology and cook and do everything anybody else does.
What stops me from feeling that I'm living life on the same basis as anyone else isn't anything inherent about my eye condition or my usable sight: it's the way society is set up. It's the broken pavements, the unwillingness of bus drivers to stop when someone with a white cane is at a stop, the prizing of "design" over blind-friendliness in the built environment, the unspoken notion in recruiters' heads that there's always someone easier to give the job to, the muggers who picked the registered-blind man to beat up and mug near my house the other day rather than anybody else they encountered on the street, no doubt thinking he's an easy target (I found out about that from Facebook which, hearteningly, has rallied round to get his locks changed for free so that he doesn't have to worry about his stolen keys being used to let baddies into his house, and offered all kinds of sympathy and support).
It's cinema projectionists not bothering with audio description when it's as readily available to them as the loop they do
implement for people with hearing loss. And it's them blaming this on the sight-impaired members of their audience or potential audience
for "not asking."
It's also any possible response to this that goes anything like "well, who cares, no one's ever died from not being able to see a movie." The idea that fun or frivolous things are only for the abled people who find them easiest to access is also ableist. People seem surprised that disabled people want to do anything other than the appointments and tasks they need to manage their condition: there's a lot of antagonism to disabled people wanting to attend concerts or sports events, going to clubs or bars...even having sex is often treated as a luxury that can't involve any allowances or adjustments just so disabled people can do it -- why should they want to anyway? If leisure and hobbies and yes even sexuality are as crucial to life as abled people think they are (and they are!), they should be just as important to disabled people. Disabled life shouldn't just be about getting to medical appointments and surviving on the most meager crumbs of life. It should be Pokemon Go and Ghostbusters
and whatever else our families, friends or colleagues are talking about.
James, bless him, read my tweets and told me that the Bradford Cineworld is showing Ghostbusters
with audio description (like I said, I'd had good luck with them before) and we can go when I visit him on Thursday if I want (he's seen it already too but doesn't seem to mind the prospect of seeing it again!). I do.
I look forward to seeing the film.