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Accessibility

Dear Captain Awkward:

OK, here’s a bit of an awkward situation for you: Very elderly folks, at the symphony or the opera, with one of those oxygen tanks that gives a very audible puff of air every three seconds, and makes a noise like a clockwork sniff.

I’ve been at many performances when one of these was in the audience, and it is incredibly annoying and very hard to ignore. I was at a concert just a few days ago, not even sitting near the offender, and yet I could hear it loud and clear, especially during quiet moments in the music, and it really did keep me from enjoying an otherwise flawless and moving performance.

What’s more, all the people who were sitting near the elderly man (in this case) were making faces and shifting uncomfortably like someone had farted, for most of the first half. Only some of them moved for the second half, and Mr. Oxygen Tank continued right on sniffing for the entire show.

My instinct is to report distracting noises like this to the ushers and/or management, but at this concert, as with the other concerts, I was 1) comped, and 2) busy during the intermission with work-related socializing. I also assumed someone sitting near the guy, given how uncomfortable they looked and how egregious the noise was, would have said something.

But also, I felt a little bad for him. Unlike people who talk or unwrap candies during concerts, this is something that is presumably unavoidable and medically necessary, and also, for the theater, an accessibility issue.

It must suck to get old and not be able to do so many things that you once enjoyed, and I feel like a bit of an asshole for snarling at an old guy for carrying his life-giving oxygen with him. Does he even realize how annoying the sound is, or has it become invisible to him? Or does it ruin his enjoyment too?

The Oregon Arts Commission has a discussion of this, and they don’t really seem to have a solution, but think theaters should come up with one.

What are your thoughts?

Your question made me play these two YouTube videos at the same time to gain a greater understanding of the problem.

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