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When Some Accessibility is Not Enough

After reading John Belluso’s Pyretown and Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Love Person recently in Drama Lit I’ve been thinking more about accessibility to the theatre in regards to physical disability. We learned about how the Geva Theatre Center who first produced Pyretown struggled to adapt to the needs of a wheelchair using actor but ultimately found a simple, economical solution — installing a ramp that led into the house. This story really got me thinking about the extent to which many of the obstacles theatres face when trying to become more accessible may only be perceived as such. I wonder if the cliched “turn an obstacle into an opportunity” can be applied — it certainly did for Geva Theatre Center, who found that the ramp became an integral part of the set and storytelling.

This brings me to an NPR article I came across this week about a blind man, Mark Lasser, who is suing the producers of Hamilton and the Nederlander Organization (the theatre owners of the Richard Rodgers) for the production’s lack of audio descriptive services. A related Wall Street Journal article says that the lawsuit cites a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits places of “‘public accommodation’ from discriminating against people with disabilities when providing access to goods, services and facilities.”

The NPR piece goes into more detail about the relatively low costs of audio description for Broadway shows and how the goal of the class-action suit, according to Lasser’s attorney, is to draw attention to this specific lack of accommodation by using a mega-hit show that already draws headlines. And to be quite honest, it worked (at least for me). Someone’s suing Hamilton? I thought as I clicked on the article. Only upon reading it did I learn that the issue is not really about Hamilton at all, but rather about a lack of consideration towards blind and low-vision audiences, which made me examine the ways in which I too do not consider those audiences. In class we’ve been speaking a lot about diversity within diversity, but my take away from learning about this specific lawsuit is that we as theatre makers have to do better when it comes to considering that greater accessibility for some likely may not meet the needs of others — and that meeting the basic requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act is just not sufficient. We should always be pushing towards greater and better means of accessibility, but we need to be constantly making sure that we are not leaving anyone behind.

More here.

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