Cinderella and the Glass Hearing Aids

It's been a while since I've written about deafness. When I started this blog some seven years ago or something, that's what it was about. In the in-between years, I've gathered my life up and moved it into a new life, a quieter one. Things about deafness that frightened me then don't anymore: I can sit through dinner parties and not get much of the conversation and still honestly say I had a wonderful time. I have good hearing aids that let me hear my students read their work. I can take them out at the end of the day and have a very quiet world. For most situations I have accepted deafness into my life.

That is.

Until I have a horrible exchange with a young woman working at the cinema over the quality and performance of assistive listening devices after watching Cinderella.

Cinderella keeps saying "have courage and be kind and all will be well."

But I found myself today in a situation where I understood why "the disabled" are grouped together often as being a grouchy lot. I didn't start out grouchy, though I have become accustomed to a certain degree of inconvenience when I request one of the assistive listening devices at the cinema. The manager or staff attending the little customer service kiosk always behave as though I have asked to see the holy grail or some other precious thing that few have the authority to handle.

"They haven't been charged," said one manager about the closed caption device that sits in a cup holder.

"It will take me a moment to figure this out," said the one today as she toiled with the cords of the closed captioning lenses.  I also asked for the t-coil device because the lenses don't always work.

I stood waiting for 10 minutes, then she started to wipe all the cords with alcohol.

That was the beginning of my bad mood. Yes, I want clean devices, but I don't want to miss ten minutes of my movie.

I understood she was polishing the grail so didn't interfere.

The t-coil device was crackly, and the lenses didn't work.
I left the movie to get help, but it was another10 minutes so I left the devices with the usher, saying please have the manager come help me.

The manager did, and the lenses still didn't work. She fiddled with them, then they worked. But they missed about 20% of dialogue.

Before I went deaf, I was included in just about everything that white women are. I could enjoy movies, restaurants, move around in the world with a pretty decent ticket to everything. That ticket went away when I lost my hearing due to a congenital disorder that lay dormant til my late 20s.

And I know this is what I sat with during Cinderella.

When the technology for accommodating deafness doesn't work. deafness is brought into high-relief once again. I am driven to remember it, to recognize that my world is limited.


After the movie, I delivered my device to the manager and suggested she have a staff member accompany the user into the theater to make sure the devices are tuned to the right channel. That way the user won't have to miss a chunk of movie-time. This blew up very quickly into a very different conversation.

"They did work. They were the same ones I gave you at the start of the movie."

It isn't possible to trace the logic of this response or how emotionally she delivered it. What was happening was beyond the devices and their administration. She was not trained to help, and the ADA is about helping.

And just as quickly, I lost my temper. I was in tears after the exchange, having been brought face-to-face with the exclusion deafness has introduced into my life, this thin shaft of the whole spectrum of exclusion and its many forms. And it hurts terribly. It stings the blood.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all places of public accommodation to comply with ADA standards.  Current rulemaking is addressing the inclusion of closed captions within this title. Legal matters aside, though, what I feel as a result of this situation is beyond legislation.

I was told tonight, "No, I will not help you." I was told, "The machine works."

The machine doesn't work.
And I needed help.

When Cinderella is given the glass slippers, we know it's a losing deal. The shoes are glass. We know they can be lost. We know they can be shattered. And we know that at midnight, they will turn back into the little canvas dirty things they started as.

When deaf-tech fails, when accommodations fail, when justice fails, even in the microcosm of the cinema,

when help fails . . .

that is the coach turned back into pumpkin, the shards of illusion that the world is open to everyone.


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