A little while back I went to a play at La Boite Theatre at QUT which a friend had written. I really wanted to see the play because I knew she’d been working on it for a long time and it had received rave reviews. However, I’d previously been to The Wizard of Oz at La Boite in 2013 and hadn’t been able to hear it because the loop system wasn’t working. My experience with loop systems is that they’re rarely fixed and my complaints go unheeded. Nonetheless, I really wanted to see the play.
So I bought a ticket for myself and my b/f and phoned the theatre beforehand to check that the loop system was working.
‘Yes, it’s working,’ I was told.
My b/f & I went to La Boite, had a drink and located the theatre manager, who said we needed to sit in a particular spot and that she would reserve those seats for us. She mentioned she had also reserved seats for another deaf person and her friend. Inside we found the seats. I put my hearing aid on its T switch, which picks up sound from the loop system and cuts out background noise. It wasn’t working.
I introduced myself to the lady who was sitting next to me and asked if she was deaf.
‘Yes, I am.’
‘I’m deaf too. Is your hearing aid working with the loop? Mine isn’t.’
She tried her T switch. ‘No, it’s not working.’
We consulted the manager, but she couldn’t get the technicians to fix it before the play started. Nor could she sort it out at half-time. At least I had a nice chat to the lady next to me, who signed and worked as a translator.
Meanwhile my b/f laughing uproariously throughout the performance and I felt left out.
At the end of it, the manager was hugely apologetic and offered for me and the other lady to come back and watch the play again, but I knew it was pretty much booked out and I wanted other people to have the chance to see it, and I was flat out at work. Besides, a similar situation had happened some 15 years before at the Sydney Opera House, when I was invited to see a play again after the staticky loop system made hearing anything impossible. However the magic had gone. The manager with whom I was dealing was so terrible that I never went back to the Opera House again, except to see dance performances that didn’t need hearing.
The manager at La Boite also asked - and I could see she was trying to be tactful - how deaf I was. I don’t have a speech impediment so people don’t always believe me when I tell them I’m deaf, or forget very quickly how little hearing I have. I guess she was checking that I wasn’t faking it, but I was annoyed. My b/f reassured me it was just that I challenge the idea of what a conventional deaf person is, which is precisely why I tell people that I’m deaf. I also had the sense that, if the lady who was also deaf hadn’t been with me, I would have been disregarded (which has happened frequently before).
However, the manager’s response was certainly a damn sight better than of the staff at the South Bank Cineplex around the same time, when I went to watch La La Land. The last time I’d tried this cinema was in 2006, when I watched Happy Feet with my sister and her kids. I figured that, in eleven years they would have worked out that it was discriminatory not to have any means of helping deaf or hearing impaired people at their cinema.
I approached the counter. ‘Do you have a loop system that will help me to hear the film?’
‘No, sorry, we don’t.’
I was too tired to be surprised or to put up any kind of a fight. I walked out. They didn’t deserve my money.
A few weeks later I went to a World Science Festival talk at the Queensland Conservatorium a few weeks later and found the loop system was too faint to hear (despite have called beforehand and mentioned this to them, as it was quiet the last time I used it when I went to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert). The nice man on the door offered to seat me down the front but I was totally disheartened.
‘Forget it, I can’t be bothered,’ I told him.
I was sick of having to stand up for myself, and tired of the consistent message I was getting: that people simply don’t care. Later that week, I emailed the World Science folk to see they had made a recording of the talk that I might be able to listen to with headphones, but I didn’t receive a reply.
It’s sometimes hard to feel relevant to a society that, for all of your life, has shown that it doesn’t really give a damn about deaf people. However, I doubt that I’m alone. Australia has become meaner and harder and nastier and more small-minded since John Howard. I'm sure refugees, people of colour and Indigenous Australians feel like me a lot of the time.
If more places made more of an effort for their patrons with disabilities, they’d probably sell more tickets – not just to the folk with disabilities, but to the family and friends they bring with them. It makes economic sense to try harder.
At the end of the evening at La Boite, before my b/f and I walked away, I said to the manager, ‘Thank you for caring, because no one else ever has.’ She had tried, and that alone made me feel like it was worth coming back to listen to another play.