Last weekend, my girlfriends and I saw the movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s based on novels by Ransom Riggs. The books help fill that Harry Potter shaped void in this booknerd’s heart, so it was a no-brainer to see the movie. However, trailers hinted at action sequences and director Tim Burton always includes creepy twists here and there. I called the theater in advance and inquired if audio description would be available for Miss Peregrine. The box office employee confirmed, yes, indeed it would be. Excellent.
Movie day arrived. Stockton dropped me off at the theater. I greeted one of my friends with a big hug . As I purchased my ticket, I requested the audio description headset. A manager retrieved one and with a smile, pressed it into my hands. I confirmed it was in fact set for visually impaired, not hearing impaired to avoid the setback at a different theater. All was well. Tickets torn, seats chosen, treats in hand, I settled in. My friends and I passed popcorn and whispered a bit during the previews. Normally there’s no audio description for the trailers, so when I heard nothing through my headset, I wasn’t concerned.
Opening credits appeared. I focused on my headset. Hmmm. Still silent. I nudged my friend and asked her to have a look. She used her phone to light up the device and pressed a button. Immediately, two green lights flashed. “Whoops! Gotta turn it on first!” I whispered to her as we faced forward. A minute later, my headset remained silent. One green light flashed, one stayed lit. Hmmm. I reset the device, the traditional fix for any technical glitch. Two scenes into the movie and nothing from my headset. Oh dear.
Luckily, I packed my monocular. I used the tiny magnifier to spy details about the children’s home and unusual items and facial expressions. Eye strain happens if I use th monocular too much. I shut my eyes a few times during the movie when things became a bit too bright. Notably, that snowball scene on the boardwalk with Chris Christie, wink. Of course I missed plenty, but I read the books, so I wasn’t confused over plot. The bigger issue was the fact that the audio description device wasn’t operating as promised. I took off my headphones and simply decided I would speak to the manager calmly after the show. Getting angry would not help. Lying and saying the device worked would not help those requesting the service after me. Opportunities for advocacy present themselves and you have two choices: handle it well or handle it poorly.
The movie held my attention even as I missed the full experience. Soon the end credits rolled and the lights came up. Before I could unfold my cane and stand up, a lady appeared in front of me, as if Miss Peregrine herself flew in and landed. She held out a paper to me and I realized she was the nice manager I received my device from earlier. She apologized for the malfunctioning device, explaining she had tried her own and when it didn’t work, she went to the control room and reset the signal sender and when that didn’t work, she requested a service call on the system. Meanwhile, she wanted me to have a free ticket for an upcoming show for the inconvenience. I thanked her and promised to return.
People who value accessibility try their best to create seamless accommodations. When there’s a bump in the road, how you react shows more about your character than the system issues. When we work together to request, use, and fix accessible options, we are working towards full inclusivity. I’m grateful for the manager’s honest acknowledgement of the problem with the audio description system and it encourages me to give the theater a chance to get it right next time. Problems aren’t solved by staying quiet.
Have you been at the movies when something went wrong? Did you know audio description was available at movies in the US? Do you like Tim Burton movies or the Miss Peregrine books? Tell me about it.