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Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 81

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Cinderella tale turns sour due to theater 

Wendy M. Miller

For my birthday in December, my boyfriend graciously volunteered to take me to Houston's theater district to see a matinee performance of The Nutcracker. Although he would probably prefer to do a million things other than going to the ballet, he dutifully escorted me to Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center. 

As we entered the theater, I was breathless. Like Cinderella at the ball, I embraced the pageantry. The atmosphere was festive and elegant, including the audience members. My birthday theater tickets (which were not cheap) held the promise of a magical date with my boyfriend. It was going to be perfect -- or, at least, so I thought.

An usher showed us our seats. She pointed out the seating area that would accommodate my wheelchair. It was an open platform between two rows of seats. The ample area could comfortably hold six patrons and offered a good view of the stage. We glanced around for the folding chair to place beside me to serve as his seat. There was none to be found. A sound from the usher requested our attention. She motioned for my boyfriend. She wanted to show him where his seat was.

My heart sank.

The enchanting date with my boyfriend was going to be spent with twelve seats between us. I was (to put it mildly) disappointed. When my boyfriend inquired if there were any folding chairs available, the usher replied, "no" and walked away. 

The show had thirty minutes until the curtain went up, so my boyfriend kneeled down beside me and gave me a hug. The five open seating areas adjacent to me probably belonged to wheelchairs. We accepted our pending separation. To make a long story short, not one other audience member wheeled in.

Let me re-cap. The theater was dark and The Nutcracker was about to begin. There was me -- sitting by myself. There was my boyfriend -- seated by strangers. I was seconds from crying. The day was no longer special.

So my boyfriend did the noble thing and offered to stay kneeled beside my chair for the whole performance. He gallantly stated that he was not looking forward to sitting between total strangers anyway.

Unfortunately, this is an example of the daily norm for a member of the physically challenged community. Attempts are made to offer equal opportunities, but many guide-lines are only applicable to new buildings and constructions. What about ones that were in existence before the disability laws? Many of these places do the best that they can with old sidewalks and architecture. Sadly, many are distorted in their view to make things accessible.

Let me point out the error in the wheelchair area at the theater. Trips to the theater are meant to be memorable. Is it irrational to want to sit next to family and friends? Everyone else with advance tickets can expect to be accommodated with sequential seating. Why are people in wheelchairs not given the same respect? Why coral all the wheelchairs to one or two isolated areas, while their loved ones are seated elsewhere?

Why stop there? Rope off an area for small children over there in the corner make everyone with gray hair sit over there and put all the people with darker skin in the back? Oh, wait. That would be (gasp) discrimination.

I am not demanding out-of-the-ordinary treatment. I swallow most injustices with an understanding that the general public has never spent a day in my chair. Let us suppose for one moment the assassin's bullet that killed Dr. Martin Luther King had left him alive -- but paralyzed from the chest down. His infectious spirit and eloquent speeches made on behalf of the disabled would have surely been heard. If only the cry to wipe out injustices and discriminations could be felt today.

If only one more person could realize the need for folding chairs in an event seating area for people confined to wheelchairs.

If only. 

Miller, a junior philosophy major, 
can be reached at laurana@ev1.net.

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