Shining the spotlight on cinema accessibility

Our Campaigns Department has teamed up with the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers to try to tackle the issue of cinema access, following two separate campaigns run by the charities earlier this year.

The two campaigns had led to approaches from the cinema industry to discuss our respective concerns so Scope and Trailblazers have been working together to present a series of joint proposals to the industry.

We met with representatives from the three largest UK cinema chains – Odeon, Vue and Cineworld – as well as the Cinema Exhibitors Association, the body representing more or less all the cinemas in the country.

There was a very positive atmosphere in the room and while the disability charities obviously approached the issue of access from a different perspective to the industry, there did seem to be a real willingness to listen and learn on both sides.

The topics discussed were influenced directly by what you told us you wanted to see improved at a local level and included physical access to cinemas, the availability of access information online, and the attitude of staff towards disabled people. It was great to hear about some innovative things the industry is doing to improve disability access, but also to quiz them directly about some of the things you’ve told us they could do better.

The suitability of wheelchair spaces in many cinemas was an issue you, and therefore we, were keen to address. The industry said that accessibility in their cinemas was a top consideration. In planning new buildings they said they always tried hard to meet their obligations under the DDA (now the Equality Act). However, they said that even with new buildings there were still issues of the most cost-effective way to use space. Basically, this means that they felt making better provision for people using wheelchairs would come at the expense of the overall seating capacity of the cinema and that they had to balance the need for inclusion with their business need to maximise customer-generated income.

We told them about some of the difficulties you been having with awkwardly-positioned seating at the front and sometimes the extreme edges of the cinema. They said that the industry tries to offer flexibility in seating but that in some older locations this was not always possible. They said that they recognise the preference for seating in the middle of the auditorium to avoid a strained neck rather than at the front but said that the arena-style seating of many modern cinemas make this impractical and expensive to implement (this is partly because the gradient inside the auditorium can be very steep). We asked whether it would be possible for them to include ramps up to the middle area of seating. They said that this would involve taking out seats which would have implications on the numbers of tickets they could sell.

On the issue of providing tickets for carers and support workers, the news was more positive. The CEA card allows for disabled people to purchase tickets for carers at a reduced rate. The industry said they are keen to expand the scheme. We highlighted the importance of online booking facilities in order to make the use of the CEA card easier. Online booking for CEA card users is something that Cineworld already offer on their website and the other industry representatives were keen to follow suit if this approach proved successful.

Many of you told us that you found it difficult to find out online which cinemas and screens were accessible. We said that it was important to improve the access information so that disabled customers can have all the facts ahead of their visit and can avoid the ‘awkward unknown’ or a wasted journey. They said the industry is keen to improve the access information online and are looking at ways to improve the way it is presented. We will keep you posted as to how they get on.

The attitude of staff towards disabled customers was another issue you said was important. We highlighted this and they said they were keen to make sure every customer enjoyed a great experience in their cinemas. We suggested that it might make their training more ‘real’ for their staff if they were able to involve disabled people in the training sessions.

They said they were committed to offering high-quality disability equality training to all of their staff at every level and that they would work with us and disabled people’s organisations to improve its quality and relevance.

Overall the meeting itself was a positive one. It’s good to hear that the industry is committed to addressing your concerns. We will continue to work with them to ensure they understand the importance of accessibility to disabled people and will keep you updated as to how we get on. In particular, we will be pressing for changes to be made as quickly as possible as many disabled people are missing out on the full social experience of going to the cinema right now.

Talking with the industry is only the first step, we are absolutely committed to making sure that they turn words into action, but we need your experiences and your stories to help us do this. Keep sharing your stories with us atcampaigns@scope.org.uk