A Whole New Way to See a Movie

Recently, Adam and I went to see a movie. That is the most normal of phrases, except that I haven’t gone to see a movie in nearly five years, due to my not being able to enjoy it fully. Sure, blindness advocates will say don’t let your lack of sight keep you from seeing a movie, but in my opinion, paying $15 to sit in a theater and not exactly know what’s going on isn’t worth it. I’d rather just rent the movie when it comes out, and have Adam tell me the important visual portions of the film. And that’s where I stood for nearly half a decade.

Last year, I was doing some research about audio description for my job, and learned that some movie theaters were now offering the service. This intrigued me, but I never pursued it because I just figured it’d be a pain in the butt to even try to find a theater that offered audio description. Fast forward to last month. I started the book “Unbroken,” which is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read. Around the same time I learned that the film adaptation was playing in theaters. Adam and I decided that it would be fun to read the book, and then go see the movie together.

A friend that I “met” as a result of my job (we’ve never met in person) is a real movie buff, who also happens to be blind. He is a guest blogger for visionaware.org, and recently sent me a movie review about watching Unbroken with description. Upon remembering that, I asked if he ever went into the City to see movies (he lives about ½ hour outside of NYC), and if so, which were the best theaters for audio description. He wrote back that he didn’t often go into the city, but did a little research and sent me the info for Regal Theater in Union Square. He even called ahead to make sure the movie was still playing. My friend also gave me a step by step guide to getting the correct device.

Armed with my “insider” knowledge, Adam and I went to the cinema. It was a huge place, four floors I think, with a snaking line and escalators everywhere. I had chosen to leave Jingles behind for a few hours, so it was just the two of us. When it was our turn at the counter, I asked for the device knowing that I may have to educate them on what it is, or they may have to search dusty drawers or shelves for one. To my relief, the clerk actually knew what I was talking about! She handed me a small receiver and told me how to wear it. All I had to do was give her my photo ID so they could keep track of it.

Once inside the correct theater, I turned the device on and waited. Nothing played during the commercials (which I anticipated, thanks to my friend). Then, it was time for the main feature. The movie started, and I realized the device was set for the hearing impaired, and was just playing the sound louder through the headphones. This I had also anticipated, thanks to my friend. I told Adam, who went out to the lobby to find someone to help him switch the device from “H” to “V.” Adam returned a few minutes later, and voila! The device was perfectly synchronized to the movie with audio description.

I didn’t miss a detail. I knew exactly what was going on, and didn’t have to ask Adam anything. I know I enjoyed the movie as fully as Adam did, and it was so easy! While the movie was not nearly as good as the book, the description was everything I had hoped, and more. I am thrilled that movies are once again fully accessible to me, and can’t wait to see my next film!

Kudos to Regal Theater for making my experience so easy! I’d recommend their Union Square location for anyone who wants to see a movie with description.

Broadway Bound

On Thursday, Adam Jingles, and I went to the Broadway play “You Can’t Take it with You,” starring James Earl Jones. The play is based off the old movie featuring Jimmy Stewart (I believe it came out in 1938), and was a special audio described showing, made possible through HAI’s Describe! Program.

It was a frigid day, so I had Jingles sporting her blue winter sweater as we traveled. We met Adam at Grand Central Terminal, on the subway train platform. This is an easy way to meet up with someone, as finding each other in the huge abyss of Grand Central can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Since I had my husband-man, I heeled Jingles alongside of me. This is nice to do sometimes because I can still hold Adam’s hand and talk with him while keeping my pup with us. As a side note, I have found that going sighted guide with Adam has had no ill effects on Jingles’ performance, save for us not learning whatever route we are taking that day. She switches right back to work mode the moment I pick up the harness handle.

The first stop on our journey was the Shake Shack in Grand Central. In my opinion, Shake Shack makes the best burgers in NYC. Adam managed to find us a seat, and I tried to get Jingles into a down position under the table. This proved somewhat difficult, as the chair I was sitting in was a high seat, much like a bar stool, and she was fascinated with every smell and crumb around her. Eventually I got her settled, for the most part, and we ate our chow. After dinner, our little crowd headed to the theatre. We had to transfer trains at a different station, so we took the shuttle to Times Square, which I would never recommend to any blind person, as the trains arrive on 4 different tracks, and are only open for less than a minute. Because of this, Adam, Jingles and I would rush to a platform, only to find the doors closing in our face, turn around and repeat the process to a different track, ultimately catching the third shuttle to arrive. Finally, we made it to the theatre, picked up our tickets and my audio receiver from the HAI staffer in front of the theatre, and headed to our seats.

Jingles on escalator
Caption: Jingles rides the escalator in Grand Central. She is wearing her blue sweater and a sign that says “don’t pet me, I’m working.”

It was an interesting ordeal getting the dog settled in at our designated seats. The area was cramped (like all Broadway theaters), and there were several other guide dogs present, which required strategic placement of the dogs so they didn’t try to interact with one another. I wasn’t sure what to do about Jingles’ harness. Since she is small, and I am tall, we have the long handle, so it’s hard to fit her into small places because the harness handle is as long as she is, preventing her from curling up. I was a bit nervous after Jingles’ last theater experience (a story best not mentioned), so I chose to leave the harness on and wedge her between the seat in front of me and my legs. We sat next to a nice couple, with the wife also blind with a guide dog and the husband also sighted. After a little finagling, we managed to get our dogs settled, and got to know each other a bit before the show and during the intermissions.

The play was awesome, and the description was great. There were three acts. Jingles stayed down during the first act, groaning to let me know that she was not pleased with the arrangement. During the first intermission, she jumped into a sit and refused to lay back down. So, Jingles literally sat through the entire second act. I wouldn’t have minded, but the space between the seat and my legs did not allow her to sit straight, so she kept shifting her legs to get back into a sit, which was inching her toward the man to my left. I kept my hand on her collar, fearing that she might randomly bolt, but she didn’t. I figured she was rather uncomfortable, so I unclipped her harness so it would be loose on her. She proceeded to get it wedged, so I removed it completely. About 2/3 through the second act, I reached down to find that Jingles had somehow managed to shimmy out of her winter sweater and it was stuck around her legs and back. Since I knew it was really tight, I tried to remove it completely without disturbing those around me. Finally, the second act ended and I had a naked, unharnessed dog. Once the third act began, Jingles laid down and slept like a rock.

In hindsight, I figure Jingles was extremely hot in her sweater, and uncomfortable because of the harness, which is why she refused to lay down during the second act. While trying to behave for me, Jingles apparently decided to take matters in her own hands. Silly dog. All in all, great play, great day, and I learned some tricks for next time.