In 2011, The Guardian newspaper highlighted problems of accessibility in the UK’s cinemas. The following on from an investigation by Muscular Dystrophy charity Trailblazers referred to the range of services as ‘second-class’ including:
- Poor visibility from disabled spaces.
- Poor accessibility from the box office to the cinema screen.
- Rude and unhelpful staff.
- Most cinemas only had one accessible screen, if they had any.
Independent cinemas tended to do better despite having smaller budgets and located in older buildings without the resources for newer technology. Has the situation changed in 2018?
The UK Is Now a World Leader for Disabled Access in Cinemas
Much has changed in the last decade. UK cinemas are now considered a “world leader” in accessibility issues. Efforts have been made to welcome and encourage more people with disabilities to visit the cinema and enjoy the latest films. There have been laws in place since 1995 with the Disability Discrimination Act and The Equality Act in 2010 to ensure everyone has the right to access services within reason. However, the situation in 2011 certainly painted a different story from the provisions that cinemas are supposed to make for people with disabilities.
The UK Cinema Association has been proactive to offer more services to patrons with disabilities. This does not just centre on ensuring that screens are accessible and have a reasonably good view. Nevertheless, problems persist. One of the biggest stories of recent years was the number of cinemas that failed to make screens showing “The Theory of Everything” (a story about the life of Stephen Hawking – a physicist who developed a form of Motor Neuron Disease while only 21 years old) accessible to disabled visitors.
The Five Main Challenges Facing People with Disabilities Today
According to Disability Horizons, there are five main challenges that people with disabilities face today when visiting the cinema:
- Little respect for medical needs from employees and other patrons. Some require equipment to hand at a moment’s notice and sometimes this equipment can be noisy. In 2015, a disabled patron was asked to leave a cinema because his ventilator was too noisy.
- Seats for carers and space for wheelchair users have always been poor and despite the investigation in 2011, not a lot of improvements have been made. While some are placing wheelchairs on a raised dais in the centre of the auditorium, they are still mostly at the back.
- The process of booking accessible seating can be problematic as space is limited. Once all of the wheelchair spaces have gone, there is nowhere else to go. This could be as few as two or three spaces.
- Audio description is one way for the deaf to engage with cinema. The other is Audio Loop (covered in the next point). Audio description means that not only the dialogue is placed on the screen, so is some of the narrative.
- Not enough cinemas have audio induction loop and are not sure how to go about getting it installed. Those that do are limited to 1 screen. Audio loop differs in that sounds are sent to the user’s hearing aid so they can hear dialogue and audio descriptions of events.