Disability Awareness in the Classroom: Our Last Visit for This School Year

Luna and I had a great day at school.

Last Thursday, two neighborhood friends drove my Seeing Eye dog Luna and me to a Chicago suburb 30 miles away to visit third graders there. We went as part of the Educating Outside the Lines Disability Awareness program. Every day that week someone with a disability came to the school to talk with students about their disability and the “helper tools” that let us do the things we like — or need — to do.

Black Lab Luna guided me to two presentations for third graders Thursday morning. At each one, I talked with the kids about being blind, what service dogs do, and how I use a talking computer to do my job moderating this blog for Easterseals.

As I readied myself for the question-and-answer part at one of the presentations , the teacher there gushed over Luna. “She’s sooooo pretty!” I took my cue, turned to the third-graders and told them I hear that a lot. “I just pretend they’re talking about me!” I laughed. After that, the questions started pouring in:

  • Do you cook your own food?
  • How do you, like make your breakfast and your cereal and stuff?
  • How can you eat, then?
  • How do you know where someone is if you can’t see them?
  • Did you ever get robbed because you are blind?
  • How do you know what earrings or necklace to wear when you’re getting dressed?
  • Have you ever lost your dog when you were walking?
  • Can you see in your dreams?
  • Can you swim?
  • What was the last thing you ever saw?
  • How does your dog know where you are when you go on a walk?
  • This is not a question, it’s a comment. You’re very pretty. And I mean you, not the dog.
  • How old is your dog in people years?
  • How can you ride a bike?
  • Did your dog ever run away and you didn’t know where it went?
  • Is it hard to know which way to go when your dog goes around a tree?
  • How do you swim?
  • How do you drive?
  • When you call someone, are the numbers in Braille?
  • Have you ever lost your dog when you were walking?
  • How do you get on your bed?
  • How does your dog know where you are when you go on a walk?

And with that, I picked up Luna’s harness, commanded, “Luna, Outside!” and the children cheered as my Seeing Eye dog guided me out of the classroom for our last visit for this school year. “Good dog, Luna!”


Airport Anxiety: The Importance of Transportation Options for People with Disabilities

We are standing outside the restaurant. I’m wearing a sundress and he’s wearing a dress shirt with dress pants and dress shoes. We are standing side-by-side with an arm around each other and smiling. It was taken after dinner for our two year anniversary.

If you’ve read my posts here on the Easterseals National blog, you know that I love sharing travel stories, especially new experiences. It feels good to step out of my comfort zone, do something different, and have it go well enough to actually want to write about it.

Such is the case this time.

I spent the month of April in Houston visiting my boyfriend Juan. We’ve been in a long-distance relationship for two years now, and a 4-part series here describes how we’ve managed to keep that relationship going strong for so long.

We typically take turns flying, but I’ve been traveling a bit more than him lately. Last winter, I flew to Houston to get away from Chicago weather and celebrate the holidays with Juan, and then I flew in April to spend a month to explore a new city to see if I could picture starting a new life there. We only see each other in-person about four times a year, and transitioning from a long distance relationship to living together is a huge step. We wanted to make sure we could live under the same roof.

I flew back to Chicago in early May, and this time rather than having someone from Juan’s family drive me to the airport, I ended up taking their paratransit service MetroLift to the airport.

Paratransit is a door-to-door service offered to people with disabilities, an alternative to taking the fixed route buses. The service area — that is, the areas of town in which paratransit will provide service to disabled passengers — is much wider in Houston than the service area covered by paratransit in Chicago, where I live now. I was a little nervous taking paratransit, but I definitely felt more comfortable taking MetroLift than I did taking Uber.

The thing is, I’m an anxious traveler by nature. Part of that is just anxiety in itself, and part of that does stem from my blindness — the constant and extra planning that goes into traveling as a blind person, needing extra assistance, and worrying about being forgotten. I am not relaxed until I am safe and sound at the gate, because in my mind, anything can go wrong before that.

I prepare mentally for what could go wrong and create a backup plan in case it does. Juan knows this about me. He is blind too, and he knows that if plan A gets derailed without a backup plan, I’ll obsess over it and start to panic. When we have to make alternative plans, he’s good about planning it all out.

So when he told me his family was going to be away in Austin (where his sister lives) for Mother’s Day weekend, I started to get nervous. Who’d drive me to the Houston airport, then? Juan calmly presented plan B in meticulous detail, and I felt okay right away.

The plan was to take MetroLift to the airport and get there early. He schedules his rides based on appointment time (that is, what time he wants to arrive) rather than pickup times, because if you schedule by appointment time, even if they have to pick you up early due to other pickups and drop-offs, you’ll still arrive when you want to arrive.

Juan also assured me he’d be coming along on my ride to the airport. He said MetroLift drivers have to hand you off to an employee, so they wouldn’t just drop us off and leave us like an Uber driver might.

So, despite the bittersweet feeling of saying goodbye after spending a whole month together, when departure day arrived, I found myself actually getting excited rather than feeling nervous. I didn’t want his mom to miss most of Mother’s Day weekend, and this seemed like it would go smoothly enough. When Juan called to verify what time our ride was coming to his apartment, he also double checked that they’d walk us into the airport. I overheard him talking to dispatch: “We’ve never done this before,” he said. “So I want to make sure my girlfriend gets assistance — she’s blind, too.”

He made sure they knew we’d both have our white canes with us. They ask this anytime you book a trip anyway, but in this case he told them so they would know who to look for when they arrived at his apartment to pick us up. “I don’t want her just stranded there at the airport ,” he said. “I want to make sure the driver is going to lead us inside.”

The call was on speaker, so I could hear the friendly dispatcher’s voice assuring Juan that yes, the driver would walk us inside, and kindly describing the process of airport drop-offs.

With my trip to the airport booked, Juan scheduled his ride back from the airport for one hour later. That way he could come inside and wait with me. We had scheduled the appointment time early enough that even as our driver took a while to figure out where to park to lead us inside (she herself had never done an airport drop-off before), I wasn’t nervous. Our driver was determined to figure it out, and we had plenty of time.

When she found where to park, she led us inside, where an employee saw us and said he’d take us to the check-in counter. After I told him I was the only one traveling, Juan added, “I’m just going to wait with her to make sure she gets help to security, and then I’ll need some assistance downstairs to catch MetroLift.”

The employees were very patient and accommodating as they led us to the counter and the driver departed. After checking in my suitcase, an airline employee handed me my boarding pass and placed me in a wheelchair to wait for assistance. Being placed in a wheelchair doesn’t bother me even though I don’t need one. It’s pretty common practice in airports and I know it bothers some people. However, it really does make the overall process of getting through security a lot faster. Then there’s this: it makes me more visible and serves as a constant reminder to them that, “Hey, I’m here and I need some assistance!” I only needed to wait about 15 minutes before someone came to assist me. “I’m going to take her to security,” she told Juan. “And sir, someone is already on their way to take you downstairs to catch MetroLift.”

He thanked her for assisting me and for accommodating him as well, telling me to text him once I’ve made it to the gate. We said goodbye, and I was on my way to security.

I ended up having about an hour and a half to kill at the gate, which didn’t bother me. I felt very relieved that the trip went so smoothly. It was definitely a new experience and something I would do again for sure.


For more about paratransit and transportation services in your local area, visit Easterseals


To Moms with Disabilities: You are Valued!

Sofiya CheyenneThis Mother’s Day, we are thrilled to introduce Sofiya Cheyenne as a guest blogger. Sofiya is a mom, actor, performance artist, teaching artist, and disability advocate. She was recently featured in the ‘That’s My Easterseals‘ PSA series to promote access to education for all children.

When my son Logan was born almost two years ago, it was the most transformative day of my life. I never knew I could love someone so quickly and fiercely; that’s when I realized being a mom changes you completely. And as a parent with dwarfism who gave birth to a child with dwarfism, I knew that this new love of mine would encounter barriers in his life, just like I have. Taking on this job is scary for any parent, but I am so lucky to have a supportive network. My friends and family have been encouraging of my growing family – especially since Logan is the first grandchild in both my family and my husband’s; it was a big deal!

Even with all the support I was privileged to have, the toughest thing about being a mom with a disability is the stigma that exists around it. When someone is pregnant, regardless of disability, the medical industry works so hard to convince these new families of a “healthy child.” What that means to mainstream society is “perfect genetics” with no differences or uniqueness – just predictability. The medical industry, and even society, can make you feel like you don’t belong and that you cannot or should not have children. They can make you feel like that you are not equipped to handle motherhood because of your difference. It is harsh, it is ugly, and it is wrong. And as you move through the world, you have to ignore these things. You have to push against these assumptions and literally dodge the negativity.

We MUST prove them wrong. It is only us that knows what our lived experience can be – our lived experience of survival that is beautifully unique. We must teach, we must advocate, we must choose the circles of doctors around us that believe the same things we do. It is exhausting and can be even defeating at times. But until the world is a place that can expect difference in the room at all times, we must push.

If you are new parents, a new mother, or a person that is starting to plan for a family, know that YOU are valued. YOUR family can thrive. As long as YOU choose the support that you need around you. YOU are in control. Do not let the doctors, the media, or society tell you otherwise. There ARE high-risk specialists and there are communities of support that value you as a person – you just have to do the work to find them. There are supportive policies and laws that exists today, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, that can support your family. Your state, your county, and your school districts should all have information to support you in your child’s life.

I would encourage nondisabled and disabled people expecting a child with a disability to follow disabled parents on social media and read books by people with disabilities. Embrace disability culture and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ensuring your child who has a disability has a connection to their disability culture is so important – it lets them know they always have a community to go to for support at belonging. The disability community needs each other to thrive and to survive – so why not give them access to culture from the very start?

Being a mom has made me a more confident, focused, and patient person. It is a selfless act, but it is also something that, if you lean into it enough, will help you grow. I don’t think there is anything different about being a mom with a disability – I just think that it comes with a different perspective. Because my son has dwarfism, my husband and I are so well equipped to handle any obstacle that comes in our way with Logan. We’ve been there. I believe in you, too – parents with disabilities out there, you’ve got this!


Business Owners: Get a Tax Credit for Making Accessibility Upgrades

a woman working on a laptopHey, it’s tax season! If you are a business owner or employer who hasn’t heard about incentives to make accessibility upgrades, check out this helpful reminder from the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center. The site provides quick tips to help you figure out if you qualify. It includes an easy-to-read chart outlining federal tax incentives and shows you how to find out whether your state offers similar incentives. Three examples spell out how it might work for your business:

  • EXAMPLE A, CREDIT: Restaurant ABC employs 25 individuals, and its gross revenue for last year was $3,000,000. It qualifies as a small business with fewer than 30 employees. Last year, ABC provided Braille and large print menus (an auxiliary aid), costing a total of $1,500. ABC removed physical barriers to the restaurant’s entrance and modified its transportation shuttle, totaling $8,000. Each of these expenditures qualifies under the Disabled Access Credit. To calculate ABC’s tax credit, start by adding the total amount spent on accessibility ($8,000 + $1,500 = $9,500) and subtract $250 ($9,500 – $250 = $9,250). Divide this amount by two ($9,250 / 2 = $4,625) to find the amount redeemable as a tax credit. ABC earned a tax credit of $4,625.
  • EXAMPLE B, DEDUCTION: Corporation XYZ removed barriers to its building two years in a row. Although the corporation deducted $4,000 from its taxes last year, XYZ spent money on an additional barrier removal project this year. This is an annual tax incentive, so XYZ is eligible for another tax deduction. XYZ removed all barriers from its bathrooms this year, which cost $8,000. XYZ is able to deduct this amount, $8,000, dollar for dollar, from the amount of money on which it pays taxes.
  • EXAMPLE C, CREDIT & DEDUCTION: Small business QRS spent $20,000 on access improvements by modifying their restrooms and front entrance. These expenditures qualify under both the tax credit and deduction, so QRS can use these incentives in combination. QRS may first take a tax credit of $5,000 (based on $10,250 of expenditures) and then deduct $15,000 (the difference between the total expenditures and the amount of the credit claimed).

Whew! That’s a lot of numbers. If you have questions, never fear – the site offers many other resources, and it encourages you to call the ADA National Network for free technical assistance at (800) 949-4232.


This Tutorial Will Help You If You Have a Service Dog

a service dog in a harnessWith so many Americans planning to travel over spring break or for summer vacation this year, I’d say the Southeast ADA Center has perfect timing: it just released an instructional video on service animals for transit workers.

Accessible and easy to understand, the short, captioned animation for transit providers offers an understanding of the rights and responsibilities transit providers and service animal handlers have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can find it on the Southeast ADA Center YouTube Channel.

The video describes the purpose of the ADA, defines what a service animal is under the law, and what tasks they are trained to perform. Entertaining and easy to follow, the video will especially appeal to those with a limited understanding of ADA and civil rights: it describes the difference between service animals and emotional support or therapy animals, and describes the rights and responsibilities riders and public transit providers have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Best of all? The video will be made available to transit providers nationwide at no cost, which should help eliminate problems and confusion for transit workers and people with disabilities traveling with their service dogs this spring break.

Safe travels, everyone!


Deaf Community Celebrates Award for Best Supporting Actor

Crom SaundersI am pleased to have Crom Saunders back with us as a guest blogger today. A theatre interpreter and American Sign Language (ASL) master, Crom has a M.A. in Creative Writing and began teaching ASL and Deaf Culture at several universities before getting tenure at Columbia College Chicago, where he is currently Director of Deaf Studies.

by Crom Saunders

When I saw Troy Kotsur perform as Stanley in Deaf West Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 2020, I knew, or at least hoped, he was destined for a distinguished career as an actor.

In the years since, Kotsur has held some acclaimed roles on Deaf West’s stage, and several film appearances, but nothing that garnered nationwide attention until the 2021 film CODA.

Troy Kotsur was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 94th Academy Awards. That honor was well deserved in the eyes of many film aficionados and critics. After all, Kotsur has already won several other prestigious awards (such as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance, plus the Independent Spirit Award and the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor) for his portrayal of Frank Rossi in CODA, a feather in the collective cap of the American Deaf community.

The Oscar nomination was also the first Actor/Actress nomination for a Deaf actor since Marlee Matlin’s win for Best Actress at the 59th Academy Awards in 1987.

Troy’s portrayal of the patriarch of an all-Deaf family, except for the single CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), who makes a living as a fisherman in a small town is excellent in every aspect. His characterization, his expressiveness, and language articulation and delivery all create a very memorable role. CODA is more progressive than many films with Deaf characters in the casting of Deaf actors and actresses for all Deaf roles, and giving American Sign Language the importance it deserves. I don’t always watch the Academy Awards, but I did watch this year — in full support of Kotsur and the cast. I was hopeful (and confident) that Kotsur would win Best Supporting Actor for his stellar work.

And he did! His career can only grow from this point, a good thing for Kotsur himself, but also for audiences everywhere who can appreciate his skill. My hope is that his win will lead to more modern, Deaf-centered films that have mainstream appeal but also give Deaf people the representation they crave and deserve.


Unimaginable: Keeping Sons and Daughters with Disabilities Safe During a Crisis

Gus and Beth.

Gus and Beth

A BBC News story titled Chaos, upheaval and exhaustion for Ukraine’s disabled children caught my attention earlier this week. The piece was written by Fergal Keane, a BBC News reporter who rode with a bus full of children with disabilities and their caregivers who were escaping their homes in Kharkiv to safety in Poland. The city of Kharkiv was one of the first targeted in the Russian invasion.

My heart went out to them and, especially, to their parents. I know firsthand how heart wrenching it is to realize you can no longer keep a disabled child safe at home and resolve to find a group home or facility where they can get professional care. But having to say goodbye to a disabled child to keep them safe from war? Unimaginable.

The bus had been travelling for thirty hours when Keane was writing his story. The journey started with car rides through war-torn Kharkiv to the train station, then a train ride from east to west to finally board the bus. The trip to the train station was their first trip outside of a bomb shelter since the Russian invasion began. He says, “Shells were falling close by and the noise sparked terror in the children.”

Our son Gus was born with developmental disabilities due to a genetic condition called Trisomy 12p. Gus can’t talk or walk. If his food isn’t cut into bite-sized pieces, we have to feed him.

Gus communicates by crawling to whatever it is he needs. He can manipulate a wheelchair, too, and when he wants to hear music, he rolls himself to the piano. Gus laughs and sings with the tunes and claps with delight whenever he hears live music. As a child, he loved to hold hands, especially while swinging on a porch swing.

But as Gus grew bigger, my husband Mike and I grew older. And weaker. Shortly after Gus’s 16th birthday, we realized it was time for him to move away. Mike and I placed him on waiting lists all over the country, and when a facility four hours away contacted us to tell us they had an opening, we took it.

Gus cried his entire first week away. So did we. But we knew where he was, we knew who would be taking care of him, and we can go and visit him anytime. All luxuries these parents in Ukraine likely won’t have with their disabled children. Unimaginable.


Disability Awareness: Teaching Kids How Cool We are

Photo taken in a third grade classroom at Braeside School in Highland Park, Illinois (Credit: Ashley Bakal). Shows Beth sitting in a chair with a group of kids sitting on the floor listening to her speak.

Photo taken in a third grade classroom at Braeside School in Highland Park, Illinois (Credit: Ashley Bakal)

Last week, my Seeing Eye dog Luna and I visited three different schools to talk with third graders about guide dogs and what it’s like to be blind. It was great fun, but I got to be honest: two years without any in-person visits to schools left me a little rusty.

During our first presentation, the one at Indian Trail Elementary, I forgot to give Luna the “Outside” command at the end so they could see how well guide dogs maneuver around obstacles (including 3rd graders sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor) to guide me to the door to the hallway.

At the second presentation, the one at Braeside, I never took the Braille version of my children’s book “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” out of my bag to show them how Braille works.

Third time’s the charm, though: the kids at Ravinia Elementary School got the whole show. And here’s the good news: no matter what I did or did not remember to do in those three presentations, the questions the kids asked afterwards were as thoughtful and sweet as ever. Here’s a sampling from the third-graders Luna and I met at Indian Trail, Braeside and Ravinia elementary schools this past week:

  • So is going blind like closing your eyes for the rest of your life?
  • Do you remember what colors looked like when you were a little kid and could still see?
  • Was it hard to make friends after you were blind?
  • You said you only see the color black, but if you got really, really close to a bright light, would you know the light was on?
  • How do you swim if you can’t see where you’re going?
  • So if you see the color black, but you can tell close up if something is white, does it look brown?
  • Did you ever drown?
  • When you drive, do you, like, have to use, like, a navigator thing or something?
  • So if you still remember colors, when you are imagining things, do you see them in color then?
  • I know we’re not supposed to pet your dog when she’s working, but when you pet her, how does she know it’s you who is petting her?
  • If you don’t drive, then do you take a taxi?
  • How do you get on the plane if pets aren’t allowed on planes?
  • Where does your dog go when you take a taxi?
  • Is your dog blind, too, or just you?
  • Do you inspire other people?

With all of us wearing masks, some of the questions were hard to hear. Did that little boy just ask me if I inspire people? How do third-graders even know the word “inspire?” Repeating his question out loud gave me time to think. These schools all participate in a weeklong ”Disability Awareness” program, and from what I’ve observed, it really works.

Days before my visit, the kids had met a Paralympian who uses a wheelchair to win track and field medals. During her presentation, she showed them how her prosthesis works. “It was really cool!” one of the third-graders told me. After I left, they’d be learning to say “hello” and “My name is…” in sign language. “It’s pretty cool to meet all these people with disabilities,” one of them said.

That was my cue.

Do I inspire people? “Well, I do a lot of things, you know, like go to concerts and eat out at restaurants and swim at the health club and travel in taxis and airplanes. Maybe getting used to seeing me out and about having fun does inspire people to make friends with people who have disabilities,” I said. “Because like you all know, we can be pretty cool.”

And you know what? Those third graders were pretty cool, too.


Do We Need Self-Description? Is it Good Disability Etiquette?

I’m Beth. This is my back. I have a red coat.

A journalist contacted me a few months ago. “I’m working on a story about restaurants and accessibility,” she said. “Would you be willing to meet me for an interview?”

Of course, I said yes.

We met at a local restaurant and after introducing herself, she asked, “Do you want me to tell you what I look like?”

I answered the reporter’s question with a question of my own: Why would I?

“I don’t know,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “I just read on the internet that I should describe my physical appearance when I introduce myself to someone who can’t see.”

I hated hearing this. I have no idea where this declaration started, but it sure has sprouted up on a lot of “disability etiquette” lists lately. Maybe it has something to do with all the Zoom meetings people have been on lately. In the past year or so, I’ve attended more and more events (live and virtual) where the speakers or participants are told to “self-describe” themselves before starting their presentations. You know, for the “benefit of people in the audience who have a visual impairment.”

For me? I’d rather not know. Asking people to describe what they look like is awkward. And let’s be real – can I trust anyone’s self-assessment, anyway?

A dear friend of mine died a few weeks ago. A tenured professor in urban planning, she traveled all over the world researching and lecturing on affordable housing (including significant work in housing for people with disabilities). Her husband worked with her staff and graduate students for an entire week to set up and present a virtual celebration of her life, and more than 300 colleagues, students, family and friends zoomed in. It being virtual and all, people living everywhere from Beirut to Hamburg, Miami to Walla Walla Washington could celebrate her with us, too.

I felt honored to be one of the dozen attendees asked to give a short presentation at the event. Knowing my friend’s co-workers and grad students were responsible for the technology assured me it’d all be accessible. I’d be able to “mute” and “unmute” using my screen software.

And I was right. It was.

When I sent an email their way the next day to thank them for their technology prowess, one of them responded with an apology. “I am glad you felt the event was accessible,” they wrote. “I was a little concerned about that. I wondered if we should have had all the speakers describe themselves first.”

Argh! I’m sorry they felt this way. Self-describing takes time and I was much more interested in hearing what people at the celebration had to say about our friend who had died than hearing what the people telling the stories think they look like.

During my short presentation, I mentioned that one advantage of being blind is that you get to walk arm-in-arm with friends a lot. This friend and I walked arm-in-arm everywhere – to the Chicago River, the Chicago Lakefront, Printers Row Park, Millennium Park, nearby restaurants, concerts, and our local wine shop. Walking arm-in-arm makes it easier to hear each other, and the conversations we had –especially in these past two years while she was battling ovarian cancer – are a gift from her to me.

Another advantage of being blind? Not knowing what people look like. I’m left to judge others by what they say and what they do.

Something about this new emphasis on having people self-describe themselves seems counter-intuitive to efforts to become more diverse. Do I need to know what people look like to judge what it is they are saying? I’d rather have them introduce themselves by saying their name and what it is about them that prompted the event to invite them as a presenter.

Which is exactly what happened at the celebration for my friend. Tears were shed, yes. We laughed some, too. Friends and colleagues spoke with Italian accents, English accents, Scandinavian accents and in all sorts of American dialects. I suppose we all looked pretty different from each other, but who cares? The one thing we have in common was far more important: our love of — and gratitude for — our friendships with this incredible woman we are all going to miss.


From Bah Humbug to Beautiful: An Accessible Christmas Carol

Actor Larry Yando in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, holding a hat, wearing a grey coat and scarf, smiling and laughing

Credit: goodmantheatre.org

Back in November my 26-year-old niece Anita texted me:

Beth, quick question for you. Do you have any interest in possibly going to see A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theater?

Here in Chicago, some families go to the Goodman to see A Christmas Carol every year. How pedestrian! Truth be told, I kind of sort of rolled my eyes at Anita’s suggestion. Bah humbug! I’d seen A Christmas Carol done at community theater in the past, and I like watching it on TV during the holidays, but I had never ever wanted to join the throngs of everyday people who go to see it at a theater and thought it best I keep it that way.

But then came the back-and-forth texts. Anita’s girlfriend Kelly would be coming as well. They had chosen a date that offered a pre-show audio tour for blind people.

Anita grew up around disability. I became blind before she was born, and she and her mom lived in the same town we did when we were raising our son Gus, who was born with physical and developmental disabilities and uses a wheelchair. Her father is from Jamaica, her mother is white, and she’s all about diversity and inclusion!

And then there’s this: Anita and Kelly are a fun couple, so smart and witty that we share a lot of laughs whenever we’re together. And, okay, it was pretty flattering to think they’d go out of their way to spend an afternoon at the theater with their old blind great aunt Beth. No more bah humbugs! I said yes. And am I glad I did!

Tickets for A Christmas Carol are usually quite expensive, but in its efforts to be “a theater for all” and a “place where diverse audiences experience extraordinary productions,” Goodman offers reduced-price tickets to people who attend the touch tours. Anita and Kelly were accompanying their blind old great-aunt Beth, so they got the same discount I did.

Seeing Eye dog Luna guided me from home to the theater to meet Anita and Kelly last Saturday, I showed my proof-of-double-vaccination card with pride, and handed over my ticket. “Box seats!” The ticket-taker sounded impressed.

When Goodman’s’ house manager/accessibility coordinator Andy Wilson greeted me in the lobby, he explained they save those box seats for people who might find accessing regular theater seats difficult. “Your box is on the main floor,” he explained. “No stairs!” Bonus: Box seats are great for social distancing, and Black Lab Luna could sprawl during the show without bothering anyone else.

Andy directed Luna and me to our starting point in the lobby, where they had three of the understudies’ costumes available for me to touch (the ones the actors would be wearing were not available for obvious reasons). I appreciated having the costumes displayed on dressmaker dummies — that way I could feel the fabrics with structure and imagine how they might look — and fit. A costumer from the show was on hand to give me the back story on each piece. My favorite? A top and hoop skirt worn by the Ghost of Christmas Present. I was encouraged to touch the fabric, the stitching, the piping, the braids, the brocades, the hoops, everything.

Anita and Kelly showed up in time to enjoy some of the costumes, and from there the two of them escorted me into the theater to meet some of the main actors in the play for the pre-show. One of them was the one playing the Ghost of Christmas Present — the one who’d be wearing the hoop skirt. “I’m supposed to look like a Christmas tree,” she laughed, then went on to explain the real reason behind the hoop skirt. “It hides the harness I have to wear.”


Yes, harness. She wears it to hold up the weight of the Christmas tree hanging off her shoulders. “A couple other actors wear harnesses under their costumes, too,” she added, explaining that Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past actually fly during the show. “They need harnesses on to do that.” My mind went right to my childhood, when I marveled at the TV presentation of Sandy Duncan flying in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan.

The actors chatted briefly about their role in the play, their appearance and/or physicality and how they might approach that in their portrayal. The Ghost of Christmas Present described herself as having “brown skin and black hair” and told us she plays a charwoman near the end of the play, too. Each actor gave us a few lines from the play and it was astonishing to hear the Ghost of Christmas Present sing one of her lighthearted lines from when she’s in her hoop skirt, then transform to a baritone charwoman for that later scene…all right before my very ears!

The last actor to describe themselves was the Ghost of Christmas Past. You can get a great example of how generous the actors are with their descriptions hear by listening to a recording of Lucky Stiff describing what it’s like to dress as the Ghost of Christmas Past for every performance. (Use the link to the audio player below.)

Ghost of Christmas Past Goodman Touch Tour

When Goodman’s Andy Wilson explained that they switch up the performance every year, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sounds like this one’s gonna be like Cirque du Soleil!”

    • Musicians on stage throughout the play portray buskers on the street outside of Scrooge’s office –sounded to me like a bass, a French horn, a violin, a recorder, an acoustic guitar, even an…accordion! So nice to hear live music on stage again.
    • Rather than Scrooge having a nephew Fred, in this version he has a niece Frida who invites Scrooge over every Christmas.
    • The party where all the dancing goes on is traditionally at Mr. Fezziwig’s place, (he’s a businessman who uses Scrooge as his banker) but in this version the business is owned by two women. Mrs. Fezziwig & Mrs. Fezziwig dance together in this scene.
    • Tiny Tim is portrayed by a 12-year-old Chicago girl whose parents immigrated here from India
    • And lest we forget: some of the characters fly — Scrooge flies with Lucky, the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Anita, Kelly and I learned most of what I’m reporting above from going to that “audio tour” before the show. During the pre-show the actors explained to me exactly when the flying scene would happen, how the flying contraption works, how heavy it is to wear and so on. Audio describer Jason Harrington jumped on stage at one point to walk around it and describe the setting and scene changes — so helpful.

Forgive me for going on and on about this. I had a wonderful time with Kelly and Anita, they both were so kind-hearted, totally comfortable around me and very helpful, too: ordering coffee before the show, snacks during intermission and then a Lyft ride home afterwards.

Just heard this morning that Goodman has cancelled some of their upcoming shows due to the surge of the omicron virus, so I’m especially glad we got there when we did. Time with family at A Christmas Carol got me into the Christmas spirit this year, a happy feeling that won’t go away.