Disability Rights Violations
HECKLERS DRIVE PERSON WITH DISABILITIES FROM THEATRE
by Talitha Horn
A group of hecklers was able to drive a person with disabilities from the Caribbean Cinemas in Castries, St. Lucia on Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 7:20 pm as the main feature began. As a result, by a decisive, just and compassionate management, the hecklers were, in turn, directed to leave the theatre with no refund for their tickets.
At the beginning of the movie there is always a brief animated announcement to help patrons understand theatre etiquette. It requests that cell phones be turned off, that persons refrain from talking, and that trash is disposed in the containers provided.
As the main feature commenced a group of youth seated to my right continued to make noise. In front of me a young man sat separately who was part of the group making the disturbance.
Another young man spoke up asking the group to be quiet. It appeared to me that there was recognition between the group and the man requesting quiet.
There was no change in the noise so the man repeated his request for quiet. This precipitated a dialogue which I could not hear distinctly and which shortly escalated into a violent situation between the two youth sitting before me.
From behind me a man leapt nimbly to his feet managing to reach and throw himself between the combatants saying distinctly “this man has a disability leave him alone.” There was tension as the group and the fighters hesitated.
The peacemaker continued, making the point that the combatant was a person with a disability (PWDs) and not as able or coordinated as one might think due to a disease affecting his coordination.
The PWDs then burst out loudly protesting his attack and his unwillingness to remain under the circumstances then turned and quickly left the theatre.
I ran to the stairwell and entreated the man to remain hoping that by my actions he would understand that others were offended by the groups’ behavior. He was too upset to return. The theatres’ crowd calmed at this point and settled in to watch the movie.
I felt my heart beating loudly against my chest wall and could feel the frustration and anger pushing adrenalin through my system as I sat down to contemplate the situation and realized that such actions by immature and cruel individuals must have consequences. I arose again and headed to find the manager. On my way I met a woman who had gone to the manager to complain during the altercation.
Speaking to the General Manager Ms. Dorna St. Rose, I described what I had seen and added that I was on the Board of the National Council of and For Persons with Disabilities and felt that the perpetrators of the harassment should be removed from the theatre but that I did not know how she would handle the fact that they had paid for their tickets.
Ms. St. Rose indicated that she had been informed of the altercation and asked me if I could identify the persons doing the harassment. I said I could and as we returned to the theatre she indicated that she was familiar with the disabled individual and recognized him as a frequent patron to the establishment. Shortly she spoke in a somewhat heated manner saying that the offenders would be asked to leave and that she was not about to return their ticket money.
I was aided in identifying the entire group, some of whom were backpedaling at this point protesting their innocence, by the man who had arisen to stop the altercation. Ms. St. Rose asked the offenders to leave. When no movement was forthcoming she indicated that she would summon the security if they did not leave on their own, at which point they rose as a group and moved slowly toward the exit. As a result of the exodus some clapping was heard in the audience.
Ms. St. Rose and the other individuals who assisted in righting this wrong and the person with disability are to me the St. Lucian “persons of the week” for their courage to stand up to injustice and show the way to members of our society who do not understand how to deal with antisocial behavior of this sort.
As we left the theatre following the movie I took a good look at the citizens who had done their part to help. One lady remarked that since such action had been taken they will be willing to return to enjoy the theatre. I would like to have gotten their names.
Helping our society understand and have appreciation for the great value of persons with disabilities is the entire reason for the existence of the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD), an umbrella organization to all disability related organizations on the island. We look forward to the day when the inclusion of persons with disabilities will be complete and the collective social conscience will not allow prejudice, intolerance or such situations to occur as persons raise their voice as one to demand equal treatment for persons with disabilities. NCPD would also like to contact the youth with disabilities and encourage his membership in our organization. NCPD telephone number is (758) 453-1539.
NCPD learned later that the Cinemas had identified the young man with disabilities when he returned the following evening to attempt to see the movie that he had missed and at that time they presented him with a certificate for a drink, a hotdog and a free ticket. NCPD would also like to thank the individuals who stood up for the person with disabilities for leading the way in respecting others' rights.
PHOTO: Lancia Isidore, Executive Director, National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities expresses appreciation to Dorna St. Rose, General Manager for Caribbean Cinemas for her commendable reaction to prejudice and violence. Behind Ms. St. Rose are Cinema personnel who assisted in actions taken.