Everyone loves a good movie. Like music and food, films bring us all together. Whether that means debating our personal tastes, remembering our favourite movie moments or simply getting together to share in a viewing experience, there is nothing quite like the thrill or emotion a great piece of cinema can provide.
But even in today’s 21st century world the issue of disability provision in cinemas is still prevalent. In 2011 a total of £1.04 billion was taken in UK cinemas, the highest amount in history. Of that amount almost 12% is accounted for by the disabled audience. That’s almost £125 million which is certainly no meagre amount. Yet the statistics show that the cinema experience for most disabled viewers (particularly in large chain cinemas) is not what it should be.
So what can be done about this? It would seem like a good place to turn would be the actors and filmmakers themselves, whose industry influence and clout would surely help to change the situation.
But this has already been done. Over the years numerous ‘A list’ celebrities have lent their voice to support a change. Simon Pegg called the current state of affairs “disappointing”, also stating that cinemas should get with the times and simply “find a way”. Sigourney Weaver has also gone on the record to state “everyone has the right to see a good movie”, and perhaps most eloquently, comedy actor Nick Frost told reporters “It’s the 21st Century. If we pertain to be an all-inclusive society then everyone should be included”. Even in the face of high profile affiliation, the issue is unresolved in many large chain cinemas.
Thankfully there are people willing to take action. A group called Trailblazers set up an initiative called ‘Lights, Camera, Access’ (<a href="http://www.mdctrailblazers.org/campaigns/682">More info here</a>) which encourages people with disabilities to make their voices heard, and also for cinemas to learn and adhere to best practice guidelines that would enable greater access and better training for staff.
With many cinemas currently making the transition from old style projectors do digital 4K projection units, perhaps now is the perfect time to abandon the old ways of only offering the bare minimum to those with a disability. Let the focus be on the screen, not the frustrations of the auditorium. The only problem for all of us should be the extortionate popcorn prices!
What are your experiences? Would you agree that improvements still need to be made? Or perhaps in your area the cinemas have got it right and understand what needs to be offered so that nobody feels excluded. Get involved in the conversation so that we can celebrate the good and hopefully influence the rest to make positive changes.
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Guardian article on disabled cinema access
Lights, Camera Access documentary
Example cinema policy
Sharing in the film viewing experience is something that should be universal. We can all agree, or disagree on the things we see on the silver screen but one thing for certain is that every one of us should have the same amount of access, comfort and convenience when crossing the threshold into a multiplex. The statistics and physical evidence, however, reveal this not to be the case.
The question is why? It would seem that layout plays a major factor. Disabled seating areas are often placed at the very front or far side of a screen. The statistics indicate that 1 in 3 major chain cinemas have bad or very bad screen views for disabled customers, with the main complaints being that the customers find they are straining to see the film, often having to crane their necks to be able to see all of the action.
But the problems don’t stop there. It is commonplace for disabled spaces to be limited to twos and threes with no accompanying seats for friends and family which means those with disabilities are forced to sit alone, or next to somebody they do not know. Some companies also still lack the facility to enable online booking of disabled seats, which makes ensuring a spot on opening night a potentially disappointing experience.
Of course there are exceptions to the above. Most notably in the guise of independent cinema where it is said that 96% of indies have a good view for disabled customers with 8 out of 10 venues providing comfortable wheelchair access throughout. There are provisions for hard of hearing or visually impaired consumers available in various places and there has been a steady increase in the amount of autism friendly screenings. These are all fantastic initiatives.
But the overriding factor is that over 1/10th of the cinema going audience are still viewed by many companies as an afterthought rather than a key part of their demographic and one whose experiences and service should be valued as highly as any other.