Haddayr Copley-Woods, Minneapolis, is a copywriter, blogger and mother. She is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.
If you're disabled and you've ever gone out for fun -- we do that sometimes -- you know this moment: You've already combed over the web page for information on access (which was hidden deeply inside of FAQs, if it existed at all), only to read the vague statement that the venue "welcomes people from all walks of life." So, you've called ahead to be sure you could get into the building and be seated.
Despite assurances, when you wheel/crutch/stagger/cane into the place, staff members meet you with a barely restrained irritation that makes clear their largess in generously showing you where to park your chair. (The space will leave you with a crick in your neck for weeks.) Or perhaps there's "only one step," or they have closed-captioning only on alternate Tuesdays. Or you can't sit with your able-bodied friends. Or the theater staff panics and tells you that you can't transfer from your wheelchair because leaving your chair in the aisle is a fire hazard. (Everyone knows that in case of fire, instead of transferring to their wheelchairs and getting the hell out of there, disabled people sit passively, watching bipeds trip over their chairs to die horribly.)
Now imagine a place where you are not only welcomed, but also treated as an honored guest. Imagine a place with a wide, comfortable ramp, no bumps on any of the thresholds, and such flexible seating that you can arrive with the most enormous wheelchair ever (and an assistance dog) and they'll just calmly rearrange seats for you -- right in front, but not so close that you are craning your neck. Imagine a place with all of this in an extremely old building they had to retrofit. And if you have trouble getting there, they'll send a cab for you. On the house. Oh, and by the way, all the tickets are free, for everyone.
You don't have to imagine it -- it exists.
Thanks to Mixed Blood Theatre's "radical hospitality" policy, the theater is very physically accessible, the plays are free, and Mixed Blood will even pay for a cab ride if a disabled person should ask for it. The theater offers ASL interpreting, audio description and captioning for each of its main stage productions. When you visit the website for accessibility information, you get a wonderful, specific description of the space.
Thanks to this new policy, I recently attended all three of the "Center of the Margins" festival plays staged by Mixed Blood. (Short review: see "On the Spectrum" now now now; it is absolutely wonderful, and actually addresses issues of current concern to auties and Aspies. "Gruesome Playground Injuries" was enjoyable and magnificently acted. Skip "My Secret Language of Wishes," because despite extremely talented acting, hard work and preparation, the script is outrageously disablist.)
I was so happy with the experience that I tried to talk with Jack Reuler, the artistic director, about how he managed to make such an old space so accessible with low-budget but creative approaches.
Instead, Reuler wanted to talk about how far the theater still has to go. It ultimately wants every single seat in the house accessible, he says, and he was particularly chagrined to report that it still doesn't have an elevator to reach the second-floor office space, despite applying for funding for it year after year.
I found it funny; it always seems that it's the people who don't offend me -- the people who bend over backwards to make people like me feel like valued members of the community -- who think they aren't doing enough.
I did get him to tell me that the theater had worked closely with local disability access groups to implement policies that would better serve us. Listening to cripples -- imagine that.
I've told you in this piece to do a lot of imagining, but you don't have to imagine. You can go experience it yourself. Perhaps Reuler is right that Mixed Blood has a long way to go, but for me, it was more than enough, and certainly a wonderful, hopeful start.
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