Friday night, I and 100 or so other people with hearing loss got to see Broadway’s hottest show, Hamilton – with captions!
Thank you to the Theater Development Fund’s Theater Accessibility Program!
The Richard Rodgers theater also has an induction loop. Thank you Nederlander theaters!
Looping is wonderful technology for many people. Here’s a list of looped spaces in the New York area. But for some of us, looping often isn’t enough. I’m one of them. That’s where captions come in.
Because of the nature of my hearing loss I have a very hard time understanding language unless I also have a visual aid – reading lips or reading captions. ASL-users, of whom there were quite at the performance, also need captions, as do many people with other kinds of hearing loss that preclude good speech comprehension.
TDF to the rescue. TDF makes theater accessible for people with all sorts of disabilities. The program for those with hearing loss has allowed me to continue to enjoy theater long after I was able to actually hear it.
The first play I saw with captions was Yasmina Reza’s hilarious satire about dueling suburbanites arguing over a playground incident. I had seen it a year earlier, without captions. Despite an excellent seat, 6th row in the orchestra. I missed a fair amount. Nevertheless in part because of the body language and my lip-reading skills, I thought I had pretty much followed it.
A year later I saw the play again, this time with captions.Seeing it with captions I realized how much I had missed, especially the jokes.
TDF, the Theater Development Fund, is a nonprofit that helps make theater accessible to underserved populations. It was founded in 1968 with a student discount program for The Great White Hope. In 1973 it opened the original TKTS booth in Duffy Square.
In 1979 it started the Theater Access Project (TAP, now called Theater Accessibility Programs), which currently has 3,200 active members. Almost 40 percent of them have hearing loss. A play or musical is live captioned, with a small screen showing the captions usually to the right of the orchestra. TAP members can buy tickets at half price for these seats, which are always in the orchestra.
There’s no fee to join TAP, though you must have proof of eligibility (a doctor’s note or audiogram). TDF-TAP offers about 40 open-captioned performances a year, including at least one performance for almost all Broadway shows.
They’re not always as special as Hamilton, the tickets for which went on sale last June and sold out within hours. But any play or musical benefits from understanding the dialogue and lyrics, and the only way to do that for many of us is through captions. It’s true that following captions can sometimes require speed-reading abilities, as was the case with the fast-paced rapping of Hamilton.
If you love theater, and if you can’t hear with looping or infrared devices, look into TDF/TAP. For more information about applying, go to the TAP page on the TDF website.
Even if you can hear – but want to help others who can’t – make a donation to TDF. You’ll be helping not only those with disabilities but theaters lovers of all ages whose only access is through TDF’s TKTS booths.