A trip to the movies should be something that everyone can enjoy, whether they have a disability or not. So how come disabled moviegoers always get the worst seats in the house? The UK’s Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers group conducted an investigation to find out why and their report, The Big Picture, makes for depressing reading.
Disabled people make up 12% of the UK’s moviegoers and as such should not expect to habitually get the worst seats in the house and poor customer service. However, Trailblazer’s undercover reporters were subjected to rude and humiliating treatment by cinema staff. Some were branded “fire hazards” and others were told to stay in their wheelchairs when trying to move in search of a better view. All in all, wheelchair users were made to feel as though they were an inconvenience that cinema staff could do without.
Common problems for wheelchair users were uncomfortable seating, really bad views of the cinema screen and poor access between the ticket office and the auditorium. Staff members were also reported to have extremely poor diversity awareness. Planning ahead was also very difficult as most of the cinema websites (both chain and independent) did not provide much information for disabled customers, and many multi-screen complexes only offered one accessible screen. Wheelchair users frequently found themselves unable to sit near family and friends because of a lack of well-organized accessible seating.
The survey found that independent cinemas did much better in terms of staff attitudes, accessibility and screen views. Investment had been made in innovations like removable seating and creative use of space. By contrast, larger cinemas appeared to regard disabled access as something of an afterthought, squeezing wheelchair users in unpopular seating areas right at the front of the screen with room for just one friend.
When challenged, major cinema chains maintained that they do provide wheelchair access to certain screenings and that all their cinemas have ramps, lifts and wheelchair bays. This is all very well if you don’t mind getting a stiff neck from sitting too close to the screen, and you’re not bothered what you watch. It seems that they are just happy to ‘tick the box’ even if the disability provisions don’t work for the people they are designed to accommodate.
Time for change
The Trailblazers are keen to work with cinemas to encourage a change in their attitude to disabled customers. They’ve created a charter for cinemas to commit to asking them to make a pledge to create a more accessible environment for moviegoers with disabilities and have launched a petition in support of the charter.
People with disabilities have a legal right to go to the movies and enjoy accessibility and good service. Cinemas need to recognize this and consider their corporate social responsibilities as well as their profits. It’s hoped that these challenges can be met and overcome so that everyone can enjoy their favorite movies in comfort.
Image source: Sunlive