When front-of-house staff aren’t trained to help people with disabilities

theater-curtains-down-morguestockI’ve written a post here before applauding the efforts theater companies are making to allow people with disabilities to access their live productions, and I’m pleased to be helping at a accessibility workshop tonight for “front of house” staff from Chicago Theaters.

Let me explain. “front of house (FOH) work encompasses all the things happening with the audience in the lobby and at the concession areas before, during, and immediately after a show — anything from selling tickets to handing out concessions to ushering. People who work front of house often do so because they enjoy working with people, like interacting with audience members directly, and appreciate one of the job’s big benefits: FOH staff often get to see the show for free.

But what happens when front of house staff members haven’t had many audience members with disabilities before?
It’s been my experience that untrained FOH staff mean well but can be sheepish about approaching my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and me or not very skilled at anticipating any special needs. In my case, I appreciate door people or security guards outside the front of the theater who call out to ask if I’m going to a play as I approach and then confirm I am indeed at the right place; staff inside letting me know where “will call” is to pick up my tickets; concession stand workers listing their offerings out loud; and ushers who offer to guide us to the best place for Whitney if she needs an outside break during intermission.

At tonight’s program, theater-goers who are hard of hearing, can’t see, use a wheelchair, have developmental disabilities or issues with memory loss will explain their unique needs and answer questions from front of house staff who will be there from theaters all over Chicago. Attendees will hear from audience members who go to touch tours before shows, use wheelchair accessible stages, read open captioning, take in ASL Interpreted performances, or listen to audio descriptions of what’s on stage. I’m looking forward to talking with front of house staff members tonight to learn more about them and their jobs. I also look forward to discussing the challenges and successes in accessing arts programs with them. I’ll be sure to share all I learn here with you on a future post. For now, its showtime!

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  1. Bonita Powell Says:

    I’ts all maintiaing i