How Do People With Low Vision…Participate in Theater?


My freshman year of high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a school wide play competition. Each grade presented a student-written and directed one act play and competed against the other grades to see who had the best performance. While I don’t remember what place we got in the competition, it was still an awesome way to try something new, make new friends, and strengthen existing friendships. Here are some of my tips on participating in theater with low vision.

Talk to the director, if necessary, about your disability

Since I had been friends with the director of the play back in middle school, they already knew I had terrible eyesight and it never even occurred to them that my vision impairment would be a problem. The drama teacher was mildly worried, but trusted the director that everything would be fine. If I had needed to convince someone to let me participate in theater, I would have shown my IEP and requested accommodations using that. Here is my post on explaining extracurricular accommodations.

Ask for the script in large print

For small productions, getting an entire copy of the script in large print is usually easy to do. For more intricate productions, it may be more difficult. If large print is impossible to get, use a magnifier or see if you can get a digital copy of the script loaded onto an iPad or similar device.

Memorize lines as quickly as possible

When it comes to printed materials, the larger the print is, the more paper there is, and therefore the finished materials can be very heavy. I had about twenty lines in the play and memorized them all before the first rehearsal so I didn’t have to worry about carrying the script.

When in doubt, improvise

Can’t figure out what a line says? Improvise! Do not spend more than ten seconds trying to figure out what a word says. Often times my best lines were the ones I improvised.

Do not remove your glasses

This was never an issue for me, but if you need to wear your tinted glasses for photosensitivity, do not let anyone try to convince you to go without them. Having your eyes burning on stage, where lights are typically brighter, is not a fun experience. Also, it can be interpreted as discrimination.

Have someone on stage be a guide

I’d known about half of my fellow cast members since elementary/middle school, and the other half were band students that eventually became some of my close friends. As a result, they were used to my vision impairment, and were happy to help guide me on stage and make sure I didn’t fall over the edge. For one scene, I always stayed close to another cast member who helped me navigate around the crowded stage.

Request no sharp lighting

Because of my photosensitivity, I never had the spotlight directly on me or bright lights shining in my face. It’s rather hard to concentrate when it feels like your eyes are on fire, after all.

Have someone verbally announce stage cues

Often times, stage cues are given using a series of hand gestures, often from the other side of the stage. I always had someone give me a verbal cue for when to go on stage, and this helped me from not going on stage too early or too late because I couldn’t see my cue.

No flash photography

The director and school staff reminded the audience several times not to use flash photography, mentioning it was dangerous for the people on stage. If people tell you this is a ridiculous request, tell them that this is a policy for Broadway plays and other professional performances, and the same courtesy should be extended to this production.

You belong

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong on stage, or that you shouldn’t participate in theater because of your low vision.  After all, you belong. Theater is an awesome experience, and every student should be able to participate in it, regardless of their disability. There are many talented actors and actresses with disabilities, as well as characters from popular movies, TV shows, and plays.

I’m grateful that I was able to be included in theater, at least for one production, and that no one seemed to care that I had low vision or ran into walls a lot. The theater community I have found is very accepting of differences, and I encourage anyone who is considering participating in theater to try it at least once.

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To The Theater?

Living in an area that has a high emphasis on the performing arts, I’ve been able to attend a lot of fascinating performances and become more cultured. Comedy groups, dances, operas, plays, symphonies, and other events frequently stop by my area, and I love to attend. Here are some of my tips for attending these types of performances with low vision and photosensitivity.

Check performer’s website

Prior to buying tickets, check the performer’s website to see what to expect. Are there a ton of strobe lights? What about special effects such as fog or fire? Use your best judgment to decide if this will be a worthwhile event to attend. For example, one of my friends had invited me to an event that can best be summarized as ninety minutes of strobe light, so we decided to plan something else instead.

Signs at the venue

Check for signs at the venue that warn about strobe or flashing lights, and before the performance, ask a staff member about flashing lights again. My family and I went to see Michael McDonald (who does not use strobe lights) and the opening act, Toto, kicked off their performance with ten seconds straight of strobe light. Because Michael McDonald did not use strobe lights, we were not notified about the use of the lights until it was far too late, and I had to leave two songs into the concert. We did get a refund, though.

Reserved seating

When booking tickets, ask if there is any specific seating for people with vision impairments. The performing arts centers I have attended had about twelve seats at each show reserved for guests with vision impairments and their companions. Under the ADA, it is illegal to be charged extra for requesting these seats. When I booked tickets for my two friends and I to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were charged the student rate and had a note marked on our tickets that we needed the reserved seats. We sat in the second center row and had no problems with watching the performance.

Descriptive audio

Descriptive audio allows users to get a description of the movement and light effects on stage. This device proved to be worth its weight in gold when my friend and I went to Mummenschanz, a mime show. Some performances may require advance notice about descriptive audio if they use a live interpreter (Mummenschanz did), but a majority of groups have their own recordings that they provide, such as when my brother and I saw a special screening of Birdman.

Navigating the venue

At a performance for Giselle, I became separated from my group and found myself fairly lost . The venue I was at had given me a phone number for a staff member to call in case of a situation like this, and I was reunited with my group less than five minutes later. Writing down the phone number on the back of my ticket proved to be invaluable.

I love attending these performances and supporting the arts as much as possible. Hopefully these tips may help others to have same level of enjoyment as I do!

How Do People With Low Vision…Go to the Movies?


Back in tenth grade, my favorite way to spend time with my friends was to go to the movie theater at the local mall.  Even though I had a sensitivity to flashing lights, quick camera movement, and couldn’t always see the screen very clearly, I never really missed out on anything that was going on in the film.  Here are some tools and tips I have for watching movies in theaters.

Descriptive audio devices

Free of charge to use, the descriptive audio devices are loaded with a description of what is going on in a scene and also warns viewers of flashing light sequences or fast movement about five seconds before it occurs on screen, and also announces when the sequence ends.  With this device, I was able to watch Captain America: Civil War the night it premiered.  At most movie theaters, the device can be requested at the ticket purchase window.  One important thing to note is that some movie theaters require you sign your name and give your address when you borrow one of these devices, and the form to sign it out often isn’t in large print.  This information is just to make sure you don’t walk off with the device.

Also, anyone who charges for the use of these devices, or refuses to provide them, is breaking the law, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, Section VI.

Online flashing lights guides

I have had great luck finding out if a movie has lots of flashing lights in it simply by googling the name of the movie along with any of these phrases:

  • flashing lights
  • epilepsy
  • strobe lights
  • migraine triggers
  • trigger warning

I don’t use any specific website for this, rather just rely on whatever comes up in Google.  Often times, these guides will have scene markers and specific lines of dialogue to let the viewer know when the lights start.

Where to sit?

No need to sit in the very first row of the theater.  I found that sitting towards the middle or back in the center is best.  Because the stairs can be very awkward, I have a friend act as a human guide walking slightly in front of me while holding my hand, and I use my cane as well.

Asking questions

Yes, I am one of those people who asks a lot of questions during a movie, even when using descriptive audio.  Having a human guide is extremely helpful because they are able to tell me who is on the screen or what just happened in a movie if I ask.  When I saw the movie Birdman with my brother, I found that the descriptive audio was still very confusing, so having someone there to answer my questions was extremely helpful.

Sound sensitivity

I have a friend who is very sensitive to loud noises, especially low pitched ones.  In order to help with this, they wear ear plugs or earphones that are unplugged during the film to help cancel out some of the noise.  If using a descriptive audio device, moving the headphones slightly out of the headphone jack will create white noise in the form of static that may drown out more intense noises like explosions or loud music.

Dealing with strangers

There will always be strangers who are curious as to how or why someone with low vision goes to a movie theater.  Remember that you have the right not to answer their questions, and can simply ignore them.  If you choose to answer some of these common questions, I have written my typical responses below.

Are you totally blind?  Nope, I have low vision.

Are you able to see the screen?  Mostly, that’s why I use descriptive audio.

What’s descriptive audio?  It describes what is on the screen for me, like who is moving around, what is going on in the background, and who is talking.

Did you get a discount?  Nope, I paid the same price you did.

What’s the point of watching a movie if you can’t see it?  I can listen to it and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Look at that blind girl!  Usually a comment from well-meaning parents of little kids, I usually just ignore it.

Do you have (insert disease here)?  Unless they guess what conditions I have correctly, which someone is yet to do, I just answer no and move away as quickly as possible.

 

Hopefully with these tips, your next movie outing will go smoothly and you’ll be able to enjoy the film!