Will doesn't ask for much. But every Christmas, he asks for tickets to see Shen Yun and it's become a bit of a tradition. You've probably seen the commercials, or maybe the billboards, for the performing arts company. They extensively market the show. I even saw them selling tickets at our city's tree lighting this year (I'd already gotten our tickets).
I understand why Will loves the show. It's stimulation overload. There's an orchestra, delicate-yet-dynamic dancers in beautiful costumes, even opera singers. A stunning aspect of its performances is the patented digital interactive stage background that can make the dancers seem like they are ascending into heaven or diving off of giant waterfalls. It truly is a sight to behold and something we've both come to look forward to every year.
Any time we head out into society, you can bet that we've got a plan, and a contingency to the plan, and a contingency plan to the contingency plan. Because... autism. When we see Shen Yun, I've figured out over the years were we can sit so Will has a straight shot to the door at intermission so he doesn't have to wait in line for the bathroom. We usually get to the venue about an hour early so we can sit and have some Sour Patch Kids while looking out at the Dallas skyline (he's a bit obsessed). And parking - Will knows that there is red Lexus valet parking and that's where we HAVE to park (another reason we get there super early so it doesn't sell out). Some events will presale parking. Shen Yun typically hasn't. I decide to check and see if we'd get lucky this year.
So I'm on the Shen Yun site when I saw a box on the side of the homepage for patrons with mental disabilities or seizure disorders. I clicked on the link and a message popped up that read,
I read it a couple of times to make sure I wasn't being oversensitive, but it sure did seem discriminatory to me. I get wanting to allow patrons to be informed - maybe someone whose seizures are triggered by bright flashing lights might want to skip the show. But that's not what I read. The message was clear - this show isn't for you, and if you mess it up for someone else because of your disability, we will kick you out. After posting about it on social media, a couple of people did reach out on behalf of Shen Yun to offer any assistance or answer any questions. I appreciated that. And apparently the "As mentioned..." language has since been removed from the website. But this was unacceptable.
Everything went according to plan yesterday. Red parking - check. Sour Patch Kids - check (although they were the Christmas ones and Will noticed). Fourth row seats with a beeline to the door - check. But I just couldn't shake what I'd read on the Shen Yun page.
The show was delightful and powerful - it always is (yes, I'm aware about Shen Yun and the Falun Gong movement but that's not my concern). But then they performed a dance called "The Dimwitted Monk" and It was like salt in a wound. The main character is described as a temple's "bumbling yet goodhearted laundry boy." There was no mistaking what I was watching - that laundry boy was what we'd call "slow" or "special." And he was getting bullied and it was hard to watch. It is in these moments I truly try to take my "autism mom" hat off and look at a situation objectively because I know I'm sensitive. Yes, I was being sensitive, but yes, I was watching a dance featuring someone with special needs being made fun of. I wanted to cry. I looked over at Will and he was smiling and living his best life - I'm glad we were watching through different colored goggles yesterday. Now I've got to decide if I can look past the blatant discrimination towards those with special needs for the sake of my son who will ask for Shen Yun tickets again next Christmas.
As our disabled/specially-abled population continues to grow and is integrated and incorporated into society as they should be, it will be time for the arts to make adjustments to be more inclusive. I can understand Shen Yun's concerns... some might even call them valid. But I know my kid - and I will do everything in my power to make sure everyone's experience is a good one. But I at least want to feel welcomed to make the decision without fear of discrimination.