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Going to the cinema to see a film is not usually considered an essential experience, but staying up to date with current entertainment trends is actually an important part of social life and community participation. While many able-bodied movie-goers take their ability to access cinema services for granted, people with disabilities are frequently faced with barriers to inclusion in the cinema environment. It’s important that these are addressed so that movies can be enjoyed by all.
What Challenges Do Cinema-Goers With Disabilities Face
Seating access in cinemas can be an issue for wheelchair users and those who rely on other mobility devices. While most cinemas now have accessible seating options, there are often not enough accessible seats to accommodate all clients who need them. Sometimes, certain films are shown only in upstairs, inaccessible theatres, and even when cinemas try to reverse this issue by rotating screen locations, people with disabilities have much more limited booking options than members of the able-bodied population. Additionally, people who rely on the assistance of a carer may be burdened by carer ticketing costs and lack of space for carers to join them in accessible seating areas.
Many people with disabilities rely on medical equipment to manage the effects of their conditions. Sometimes, this equipment can be noisy or bulky. Unfortunately, there have been many cases of people with disabilities who have been refused cinema entry by staff because their medical equipment has been deemed too disruptive to other cinema-goers. This kind of discrimination is unfair, inequitable, and exclusive of people with disabilities.
Lack of Audio and Visual Aids
Audio description services help to make movies accessible for blind and visually impaired people, and closed captions assist hard of hearing and deaf people. In today’s world, many cinemas do offer these kinds of access aids, but there are still a number of cinemas where providers are undereducated on their necessity and how to use them.
What Can (and Should) Cinemas and Staff Do To Improve Accessibility?
Accessible seating options are a must for inclusive cinemas. Wheelchair and mobility aid users are often separated from friends and caregivers when attending the cinema due to inadequate accessible seating space. In many theatres, accessible seating areas are positioned at levels that make viewing the screen uncomfortable, especially for people whose disabilities may cause them back or neck mobility issues. Theatres should ensure that there is enough space to accommodate all clients with disabilities and that this space is appropriately positioned to provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience. There should also be space and tolerance for necessary medical equipment.
Access For People Who Are Hearing Impaired
Cinemas can offer closed captions (delivered on a personal device), infrared technology (carrying sound to a worn receiver), and hearing aid loops (transmitting sound to hearing aids). These options help hearing impaired cinema-goers to get the most out of their cinema experience. However, some options will be better suited to some clients than others. Providers should be guided by individual needs.
Access For People Who Are Visually Impaired
Audio description services can be offered to visually impaired guests via personal headsets. Audio description can help visually impaired cinema-goers to more fully understand the aspects of a film that may be communicated primarily in visual terms. Cinemas should ensure that these devices are as available as possible to those who wish to use them.
Many cinemas are beginning to offer sensory movie screenings, which aim to make the cinema experience accessible for families affected by Autism and other sensory needs. Sensory screenings should include dimmed lights and lowered movie volume that reduce the risk of sensory overload. They should also be accepting of guests who need to get up, move around, shout, or sing during the film.
Clean, accessible toilets are essential for every cinema. Accessible toilets should be readily available for use by cinema-goers with disabilities. They should provide enough space for a wheelchair to fit and should be regularly maintained.
Accessible Cafes and Confectionary Areas
Cafes and confectionary areas must cater to cinema-goers with disabilities in an inclusive way. Counters should be low enough to enable wheelchair users to communicate effectively with serving staff, and waiter service should be offered if needed.
Staff education and awareness are paramount when it comes to providing effectively inclusive cinema experiences to people with disabilities. Staff should understand the importance of equity in the cinema environment and should be educated on the best ways to help provide this. Staff may be responsible for ensuring that accessible seating, confectionary service, assistive devices, or toileting facilities are made available to guests who need them. They should be aware of what makes cinema truly accessible and what they can do to implement these strategies.
Before even arriving in the theatre itself, people with disabilities are often faced with access barriers. Disability-inclusive parking areas are important in all public facilities, and cinemas are no exception. Disability parking spaces should be wide enough to allow a wheelchair or other assistance device to get out of the car without being blocked by cars parked in adjacent bays. They should also be located close to the cinema entrance to prevent mobility impaired guests from having to travel long distances.
Cinema marketing can sometimes feel as though it’s aimed at able-bodied people, but marketing materials should be accessible to all prospective movie-goers, including those with disabilities. Cinemas should consider producing movie marketing materials using prints and language that are accessible for people with dyslexia and intellectual disabilities. Where possible, marketing should be inclusive of visually and hearing impaired people, and alternative formats should be considered.
Cinemas have a duty of care to their guests. Emergency protocols must be in place to ensure the safety of all guests if an emergency occurs, and these have to be accessible for people with disabilities. First aid kits are a must, and emergency exits should be easily accessible for mobility-impaired cinema-goers.