Going to the cinema to see the latest big blockbuster should be an enjoyable experience for everyone. The range of movies on offer means you are guaranteed to find something that interests you regardless of your age or whether you are alone or with friends and family. However, it seems like disabled people are finding it more difficult to enjoy the cinema experience or even go at all due to the lack of accessibility.
It is 2020, should this still be happening?
The answer is, of course not. We are living in a world full of amazing and wonderful innovations and advances that cinemas shouldn’t be lagging behind with access.
I used to go to the cinema almost every week during my uni days. I even got an unlimited card for one of my birthdays which was valid for one year. It was great being able to go as often as I wanted.
It’s only in the last year that I’ve started going to the cinema again. The reason for this is my nephew. He is now at an age that he can happily sit through an entire movie without losing interest. Not to mention that he absolutely loves going to the cinema with us. I must admit I love it too and it’s a good excuse to see the kid animation movies I otherwise wouldn’t go and see.
Since I’ve started going to the cinema again I’ve realised the reasons I stopped going years ago. Lack of accessibility and issues with wheelchair spaces.
I have been thinking of writing about the accessibility of cinemas for a while now. It wasn’t until last weekend when I kept seeing several people on Twitter including two of my friends share their disappointment in the service they were getting as wheelchair users from their local cinemas. Seeing their tweets prompted me to write about this issue sooner than later.
Here are some of the good and bad points of going to the cinema as a wheelchair user and the general accessibility of cinemas.
Booking Disabled Access Cinema Tickets Online
I have started booking my tickets on the cinema’s websites. It used to be impossible to book a wheelchair and carer ticket online.
Booking tickets online lets me see where the wheelchair spaces are located rather than waiting until I arrive at the cinema to be told I’ll be sat in the front row or there are no accessible spaces left.
It is very easy to book a ticket for a carer/PA ticket with your online booking. If you have a Cinema Exhibitors’ Association (CEA) card, you will be prompted to input the CEA card number during the booking and it will automatically allocate a free carer/PA ticket.
Some cinemas may not have lowered counters at the ticket office, which makes buying tickets in person more difficult for wheelchair users. Booking tickets online eliminates this problem. It’s quick and easy.
Accessibility In Cinemas
Thankfully, the cinemas I use have wheelchair access into the building. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with many wheelchair users reporting lack of access or broken lifts, preventing them from going to the cinema with friends or family.
As I mentioned, booking wheelchair and carer tickets online is now an option. I love that I can check what the seating will be like for the film I want to see. I can easily see where the wheelchair spaces are positioned and determine whether I want to go ahead with my booking.
There have been many times when I’ve checked the seating only to discover that the wheelchair spaces are right at the front of the screen, which instantly puts me off going. Sitting at the front is terrible for my neck and many other wheelchair users.
Abled-bodied people tend to avoid the front rows for the same reasons, but they have the option of the entire room to pick their seats from. As wheelchair users, we don’t have that luxury and are restricted to a designated area at the front which causes pain, pressure and stress on our bodies.
I’ve even driven 40 minutes to another cinema that has wheelchair spaces at the back just so I can comfortably watch the movie and not be in any pain. Unfortunately, there are many wheelchair users who don’t have another cinema they can easily travel to if their local cinema is not accessible. They will have no other choice but to lose out on socialising with friends and family or enjoying a date night with their loved one.
I will sometimes sacrifice my own comfort and sit at the front if I have promised to take my nephew on a cinema trip rather than disappoint him, especially if there are no other seating options available to us. I’ve even resorted to folding up my boyfriend’s jacket and using that as a neck support (if I’ve forgotten my headrest) while tilting my wheelchair back when sat at the front.
Going as a family can also be difficult for myself and other wheelchair users due to the limited number of seats next to the wheelchair spaces. There have been a few occasions where we have been split up with someone from my family having to sit on their own. This was also the case for Paralympian Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson when visiting Vue Cinemas. Tanni ended up sitting on her own in a booth with a wall separating her from her family.
One of my friends from London was enjoying a date night with her husband until they went to Cineworld in Watford. Due to the spacing of the wheelchair bays they were sat 3 meters from each other. When you go to the cinema with someone, you at least want to feel like you are with them rather than feeling as if you are alone.
Cinemas should provide different seating options, allowing wheelchair users to choose the best option for themselves. Limiting wheelchair spaces to only the front row with restricted viewing angles needs to be avoided especially in newly built cinemas.
My friend and fellow disabled blogger Claire also had a bad experience of accessibility at cinemas recently. Claire had planned a trip to the cinema with her friend who is also a wheelchair user but they had no other option but to cancel because the screen only had one wheelchair space. This isn’t fair when wheelchair users want to go to the cinema with friends and family who are also wheelchair users.
Accessibility Of Cinemas In My Local Area
There are three cinemas I tend to use. The Vue Stirling has private wheelchair accessible booths at the back in some of the screens which are fantastic as no one else accesses it and there is even an accessible toilet right outside the booth. However, when there is no option of the booth then there is only the front row available. The view of the screen is very bad and it’s difficult to see properly because you are far too close.
Cineworld Renfrew Street in Glasgow have some of their larger screens with wheelchair spaces quite a few rows back and in the middle of the rows so the view is much more comfortable. That is only the case with a few screens and the other screens in this cinema only offer front row seating to the side.
Lastly, there is Cineworld Silverburn, which is a newer cinema. It also has wheelchair booths at the back in some screens, but I have never been able to use it yet as they are always taken or the screen doesn’t have them.
Are Accessible Toilets In Cinemas Good Enough?
In my opinion, there is a lack of suitably accessible toilets in cinemas. I’ve felt disappointed by the toilets in all cinemas I have been to. The standard is usually very poor with the accessible toilets often too small to fit my wheelchair and partner who has to help me.
A lot of the time there is not enough space to safely transfer from wheelchair to the toilet. It would be amazing if cinemas started installing changing places toilets and I can’t see any reason why they can’t in new cinema buildings.
Cineworld in Silverburn shopping centre is a fairly new cinema and although it doesn’t have a changing places toilet, there is a fantastic one within the shopping centre itself. This changing places toilet is actually one of my favourites as it’s lovely inside with plenty of space and everything you need.
Top Tips For Visiting The Cinema With A Disability
- Get yourself a CEA card (if eligible) as this allows a carer/PA free admission.
- Look at the seating layout online to see where the wheelchair spaces are located.
- If there is lift access to the building, check with the cinema that it is working prior to your visit.
- Check dates/times audio description performances are available at your chosen cinema if required.
- Subtitles are available at certain performances so it’s best to check in advance.
- Hearing loops should be installed at all cinemas, but its best to check with cinema that it is available.
Although there are still many accessibility issues and areas that can be improved, I’m happy to see that there have been some positive changes to the accessibility of cinemas. Allowing wheelchair and PA spaces to be booked online and wheelchair booths at the back of screens are steps in the direction for better inclusion for disabled people. I would love to see changing places toilets for better inclusion and allow many more disabled people to enjoy the cinema without limiting fluid intake and worrying about needing to rush home to use the toilet. I would also love to see more seating options for wheelchair users and even the option of removable seats, allowing wheelchair users to sit wherever they want.
Do you enjoy going to the cinema? What can be done to improve the accessibility of cinemas?