Gobsmacked by Rudeness. Frustrated by Technology.

Hearing loss is an invisible disability. There’s no white cane or wheelchair to tip off others to your condition. Most people would not yell at someone in a wheelchair for blocking the aisle in a supermarket, or at a blind person for accidentally stepping in front of them. But every once in a while, I am gobsmacked by rudeness from people who think I’m deliberately trying to annoy them when I’m only trying to hear better.

Senior couple watching moviesThe latest happened during my vacation in Florida in a town with many older people. The independent cinema has captioning equipment for those with hearing loss, which it bought several years ago.

Because it was a chilly day, I decided to go see a movie, The Big Short. Unfortunately, the captioning equipment was not available. Apparently a part was missing. The manager instead offered me  headphones, which I decided to try.

About 15 minutes into the movie, the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said furiously, “Take those things off!”

I guess they were too loud, but how am I, a deaf person, supposed to know that? I left the theater, returned the headphones and started to walk out the door. But then I turned back into the theater, tapped the man on the shoulder and said very loudly, “Those are headphones to help me hear. I’m deaf.”

I hope he was humiliated, because I certainly was.

The rudeness, in retrospect, was understandable. It’s the technology that infuriates me. Why do I have to put on heavy, ill-fitting headphones that not only don’t work for me, but can distract people around me? It’s like installing a wheelchair ramp that not only doesn’t get you where you need to go, but blocks the stairs for everyone else.

Captions are better, and the deaf and hard of hearing have been lobbying for them for years. But what the industry has given us is a clunky gooseneck screen that you carry to your seat and fit into the cup holder. Some chains also offer special closed-captioning eyeglasses, which are less intrusive, but if you wear glasses normally the closed-captioning ones have to fit over those. (Open captioning, which displays dialogue on the bottom of the movie screen for all audiences to see, is less common than closed captioning, and also less popular with hearing moviegoers.)

Digital film technology allows closed captions to be an intrinsic part of a movie, and they can be sent automatically to the devices I described above. But why can’t the captions go directly to my smartphone instead? My phone can do just about everything else — streamed captions should be a cinch.

This is an issue on the stage as well. Marlee Matlin, the first deaf actor to receive an Academy Award, has advocated for captioning for years. In fact, you can tweet, email or post to Facebook your support for this letter from Matlin asking for captions and signing to be available on request at any Broadway performance.

One last comment about the movie The Big Short: Don’t try it if you rely on reading lips. We all know people who are difficult to speech read: thin lips, blank facial expression, yelling into their cellphones, big mustaches, shouting over other people. Guess what? They’re all in this movie.

6 thoughts on “Gobsmacked by Rudeness. Frustrated by Technology.

      • Oh Katherine, that has happened to me; only I had to ask what ? 3 times before I understood I was being asked to turn the volume down. Did I enjoy the show after that? Heck no and I was mortified to boot. I know I am in the minority here, but why do we even need devices? NO devices. The digital format gives theaters the ability to easily show open captions which are no additional cost to the theaters? “Oh the general public doesn’t like captions, you say”. They are actually warned; Please note: the 3:45 showing of Stars will have Open Captions. Oh please. It’s a cultural thing; change the marketing. We’ve always watch TV with captions and my husband easily tuned them out. It wasn’t until he noticed that when he wanted to review something to see what was said and I was able to answer his question did he start to actively integrate reading captions to his listening and viewing experience. Does he have hearing loss? No. Why can’t folks simply tune out visual distractions the way healthy hearing can tune out background noise? Don’t we tune out the windshield wipers when we drive in the rain? Change the culture. Captions are our ramps and loops our curb cuts.

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      • I agree with you completely.
        You are in the minority about wanting one show a day (or something like that) with open captions. But I’m with you. I can arrange my schedule to see the movie at a particular time if I really want to. The problem is that the majority of people with HL want captions all the time, they want to be free to go to whatever show they want to, and so we’ve ended up with the gooseneck cupholder devices and special eyeglasses. Or headphones that don’t work. Captions that don’t work for that matter. And the theaters think no one is using them because no one asks for them — because they don’t know they’re there or they don’t want the hassle. A tangled mess.

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  1. Kathryn, I just finished “Shouting won’t help” and passed it off to my sister. We both lost our hearing as adults and it’s as if you were telling our story. Off topic, I know.

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    • A comment about my book is never off topic! I hope it was helpful. I have a second book which is a much more practical guide to living with hearing loss. You might be interested in it.
      Thanks so much for writing.

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