The challenges of speech anxiety and ticketing services in Singapore

Buying accessible tickets can be problematic without good online technology

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by Sherry Toh |

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Speaking seems like a simple act: You open your mouth and say words. The end.

But in actuality, it involves a number of mechanics: oxygen flowing through your lungs, up your trachea, and through your larynx, creating sounds that are then shaped by the voluntary muscles of your palate, tongue, and lips. It’s inevitable, then, that if SMA — a progressive, muscle-wasting disease — goes untreated, it will eventually hinder your ability to communicate through spoken conversation.

My ability to speak “properly” began to fade 13 years ago, when I was 11. My mum used to say it was as if I were talking with candy in my mouth. Over the past decade, proper verbalization has become increasingly difficult for me. Unless people have gotten to know me or others with speech difficulties, I may often have to repeat what I say. I feel that I don’t have full control of my tongue, lungs, and jaw anymore. As a result, I’ve developed anxiety about speaking on the phone with strangers.

In general, being unable to use the phone for audio calls doesn’t affect my life much. I mostly communicate with family members. As a journalist, I primarily interview people via emails, text documents, and recordings they send me. But since 2021, I’ve been doing more advocacy work and taking on more personal responsibilities, so I’ve had to confront my anxiety and talk to people on the phone.

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Enter having to call SISTIC Singapore, the largest ticketing service on the island where I live, earlier this year.

The Broadway musical adaptation of Disney’s “Frozen” had a monthlong tour stop at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Theater starting in early February. My dad and I had planned since September to go on opening night. His friend had promised to help us get tickets, but didn’t know how to make sure they were wheelchair-accessible.

Because my dad and younger brother were out of town and I’d learned of the show just a few weeks before opening night, I volunteered to take care of getting us tickets. I naively assumed that my dad’s friend just wasn’t tech-savvy and I could select seating options online, as I can with movie theaters. But SISTIC’s booking page for “Frozen” stated that I needed to call them.

In the grand scheme of things, putting on my Big Girl Pants and making a call despite my anxiety isn’t a big deal. Desperately praying that customer service agents will hear your seat selection and input the correct payment details is annoying, but not the end of the world. Still, it’s a reminder that the world has leaps and bounds to go to be truly accessible. To use a video game analogy, a single glitch can be disruptive and upsetting, even if the software performs fine otherwise.

Thankfully, I booked my tickets without fuss on either end of the call. But I’m not the only person on the spectrum of speech impairment who has anxiety about it.

When I booked the tickets, I wondered how a wheelchair user who’s deaf and/or mute could purchase theirs if they didn’t have people around to help them. Would they have to visit the ticketing office in person? Surely we can make booking tickets for concerts and stage shows accessible if movie theaters already have.

I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of the ticketing industry. But I do know that if ticketing services were accessible here online, it’d likely help the staff as well, as is often the case when accessibility is implemented in other industries.

Before “Frozen,” the last time I had to call SISTIC was for Taylor Swift’s “1989” Tour in 2015. Swift fans and ticketing staff can tell you that shows as highly in demand as Swift’s are jungles to navigate. The infrastructure here to book tickets online was lacking in 2015. Although my parents and I had found sections with available seats on SISTIC’s website after a 10-minute wait, the phone service was so overwhelmed that it took almost another hour before my parents could reach an associate’s desk.

With Swift’s “Eras” Tour shattering ticket sales records in the U.S., I have a ton of questions about how SISTIC would handle phone traffic and accessibility should she decide to perform in Singapore. And while her career is an anomalous phenomenon, she’s not the only pop star to sell out concerts in minutes. I can already imagine the frazzled staff and frustrated disabled fans trying to buy tickets for Sabrina Carpenter’s July concert here in Singapore, which prompted me to write this column.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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