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Crip Tips: How to Attend the Theater While Impaired (No, Not That Kind of Impaired)

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Since December, I've lived with a fascinating condition called foot drop, in which a loss of communication along the nerves in my lower leg makes my toes drag on the floor like Jar-Jar Binks.

As my rehab progresses, I've gone out on the town with a crutch; a walker; fearless, muscular friends; a crutch and braces; and other combos of assistive devices.

Public venues are required by law to accommodate me, as well as people with other disabilities, including those who need help hearing or seeing plays. Laws aside, most theaters are glad to have an additional person in the audience, but part of the burden of being accommodated, I've come to realize, is mine.

This series of Crip Tips will try to clue you in about what's helpful to know before you even head out the door with your own or your companion's disability. If you have more tips, especially about local theatergoing with non-mobility impairments, please comment or drop me a note.

I have to say that my favorite way of going out is the chauffeur system: having an able-bodied friend drop me off on the front doorstep of my destination (or as close as is possible) and pick me up again afterward. Even the nearest disabled parking space can be quite a hike away from venues like the Tempe Center for the Arts, especially if walking any distance at all is uncomfortable. But probably the most helpful thing you can do, when visiting a new place, is to contact them ahead of time and simply explain your needs and ask how best to go about getting them met.

This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I say to myself, "Such-and-such a place, oh, yeah," because I've been going there for months or years, and then I arrive and realize, "Oops, can't walk so well -- five minutes to showtime -- I really should have a) called ahead and probably b) gotten here sooner."

In the coming weeks, I'll look at big, fancy municipal performing arts centers, little dumps in Grandevelt, and places in between, clueing you in on which door to use, how much time to allow, where you're going to wind up being seated, etc. For the next installation of Crip Tips, Front of House Coordinator Lee Brown of Mesa Arts Center is giving me a tour of the facility and its Patron Services, with photo ops. We'll explain everything I should have done on this night. Stay tuned!

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