CHICAGO (CBS)—Federal law requires public entities and private businesses to put certain accommodations into place for people with disabilities.
At Chicago’s Victory Theater, the scenes playing out on stage are narrated by an audio describer, while theater guests with visual impairment listen in on headsets.
Brian Balcom, a coordinator at Victory Gardens, said he enjoys his job.
“I enjoy the problem solving and trying to describe this large elaborate thing in six words or less,” he said.
Balcom said the job comes down to choosing your words carefully.
“You want to make sure they are efficient and descriptive,” he said. “Often times you only have one second or half a second to communicate as much as you possibly can.”
Balcom said he condenses what’s happening on stage into short descriptions.“You might say he moves the camera to and away from her, but all we really have time for is (saying) he moves the camera wildly,” Balcom said.
Balcom attends rehearsals, marking pauses on stage in his script with circles. The numbers above indicate how many beats he has to speak. His notes, written in pencil, are what his audience hears.
“People with disabilities often don’t think about going to the theater because they assume it’s inaccessible,” said Mike Ervin, a coordinator at Victory Gardens.
The coordination team works on touch tours before performances, where audiences are guided around on the stage to gain familiarity with the sets and costumes, and even meeting the actors who describe their characters.
Deborah Stein is visually-impaired.
Stein said she’s been attending theater most of her life, and had never encountered accommodations for the disabled until she came to Victory Theater.
She said the audio descriptors enrich the experience of going to the theater.
“Now and then (I) would nudge the person next to me and say ‘what’s happening?’ and try to keep it low,” Stein said. “Even when things are pretty evident from the dialogue, there are more layers of nuance that come through with the description.”
Hearing-impaired services are available at select performances.
The Second City has also added a hearing-program of their own.