UK Based Travel & Disabled Blogger


Accessibility In Cinemas: How Wheelchair Accessible Are Cinemas?

Going to the cinema to see the latest big blockbuster should be an enjoyable experience for everyone. 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 innovations and advances so cinemas shouldn’t be lagging with access.

I used to go to the cinema almost every week during my university days. I even got an unlimited card for one of my birthdays. 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 where 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.

Emma is in her power wheelchair and her nephew is sitting on her lap. They are sitting in front of a large poster for Paddington 2 in the cinema.
Emma and her nephew at the cinema to see Paddington 2.

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 that 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 rather 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 website. 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 to the building. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, with many wheelchair users reporting a 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 that of many other wheelchair users.

Emma sitting at the front in the wheelchair space at the cinema.
Emma sitting at the front in the wheelchair space at the cinema.

Non-disabled people tend to avoid the front rows for the same reasons, but they have the option of the entire room to pick their seats.

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, many wheelchair users 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 miss out on socialising with friends and family or enjoying a date night with their loved ones.

I will sometimes sacrifice my 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 me 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.

Screenshots of Tanni Grey-Thompson tweets about her experience at Vue Cinemas when she couldn't sit with 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 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.

Screenshots of a Tweet about cinemas.

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 with accessibility at a cinema 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.

Screenshots of Claire's tweets about her experience when she couldn't go to the cinema with her friend who is also a wheelchair user because there was only one wheelchair space.

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 of some of the screens, which are fantastic as no one else accesses them, and there is even an accessible toilet right outside the booth.

However, when there is no option for the booth, there is only the front row available. The view of the screen from the front row is very bad and it’s difficult to see properly because you are far too close.

Emma and Allan sitting in the private wheelchair accessible booth at Vue Cinema in Stirling.
Emma and Allan in the wheelchair accessible booth at Vue Cinema in Stirling.

Cineworld Renfrew Street in Glasgow has 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.

Emma sitting a few rows from the front in the wheelchair space.
Emma sitting a few rows from the front in the wheelchair space at Cineworld Silverburn.

Lastly, there is Cineworld Silverburn, which is a newer cinema. It also has wheelchair booths at the back of some screens, but I have never been able to use them 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 adequate accessible toilets in cinemas. I’ve felt disappointed by the toilets in all the cinemas I have been to. The standard is usually very poor with the accessible toilets often too small to fit my wheelchair and my partner, who has to help me.

A small accessible toilet in Cineworld Silverburn.
Accessible toilet in Cineworld Silverburn.

A lot of the time, there is not enough space to safely transfer from my 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.

Emma in the Changing Places Toilet in Silverburn shopping centre.
Emma in the Changing Places Toilet in Silverburn shopping centre.

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 to see if it is working before 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 it’s best to check with the cinema that it is available.

Final Thoughts

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 of better inclusion for disabled people.

I would love to see changing places toilets for better inclusion and to 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?

You might also enjoy

5 Things I Do Differently Living With Muscular Dystrophy
The Disabled Blogger Tag

Don’t miss a thing!

Follow me on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube’ | Pinterest

Sharing is caring!

Picture of Meet Emma

Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

Like what I'm doing?

15 Responses

  1. Well said. I very rarely go to the Cinema since i’ve been a wheelchair user. Also being from Glasgow, I have to hope the film I want to see is in one of the few Cineworld Glasgow screens where access is a few rows back which, as you say, is too restrictive. I’ve sat in their front side spots and I had to leave from discomfort from muscle spastcity.

    I have used a booth at Silverburn but I don’y like their 16/9 screens – if I want to see a scope film letterboxed, I’ll do so at home.

    I’m hoping the upcoming Vue in Glasgow St Enoch has rear access to their screens.

    1. Hi Declan. Thanks for your comment. That’s not so good you rarely go to the cinema now due to poor accessibility. It really needs to be much better, doesn’t it?

      I haven’t been unable to use the booth at Silverburn yet, but I will keep that in mind about screen 9/16. Thanks for the heads up on that!

      What’s your experience of Odeon cinemas? I’ve heard quite a few people tell me they’ve had better access and seating positions at Odeons. Maybe worth a try!

      Do you know when they Vue at St Enoch is going to be opening?

      1. Oh yeah. I’ve been to the Odeon at Glasgow Quay. It has access at the rear which is much better. I’m not able to travel by car and it’s not too handy for me when it comes to public transport. It is a much more useful design though, certainly.

        1. I really need to try an Odeon sometime soon. Not quite sure where the nearest one to me is, possibly Glasgow Quay. Do you remember how many seats are next to the wheelchair spaces?

  2. Hi Emma, great article and features all my gripes about our local cinemas. When my children were younger there were 4 of us going to the flicks. One cinema (the Vue) we could sit together if we all sat at the front which is just awful and we all hated it so I would sit in the w/c spot and the others would sit elsewhere. Not much of a family trip. The other cinema (Showcase) has spots for wheelchairs half way down the seating which is much nicer to watch from but there are only 2 seats next to the w/c spot so 3 of us could sit together but not 4, here we either sat 2 and 2 or little one sat on someone’s knee so we were paying for a seat we weren’t using.
    They still aren’t very well thought out.

    1. Hi Dawn, thank you so much for your comment and sharing your own personal experiences of poor accessibility of cinemas. We actually had a similar situation yesterday when 4 of us went to the cinema, but my nephew had to sit on my partner’s knee because we couldn’t all sit together. I haven’t tried a Showcase, but will need to give it a go especially if the wheelchair spaces are further back. Thanks again 🙂

  3. Good article. Another thing is that cinemas never show many subtitled films each week. They only ever show about 3 subtitled showings each week, whereas there are dozens of films on offer. And these showings are not always at convenient times. There needs to me more subtitled screenings so that we have more choice.

    1. Great point Alex! There should definitely be more subtitled showings throughout the week. Do you find one cinema better than others in terms of this?

  4. This is absolutely outrageous in this day and age where most movie theaters are so new. I currently live in Greece, and it must be so much worse here. Even as an able-bodied person, I notice that in the Athens area it is nearly impossible for wheelchair users to leave their home, and I surely don’t even notice most of the problems.

    1. Thanks for your comment Nina. That is a shame about access in Athens. Do you think wheelchair accessibility in general is limited in Athens? I’ve always been interested in visiting.

  5. This post could not ring more true. (I came across your blog looking for family friendly wheelchair days out) my husband is in a wheelchair and a massive film buff. We won’t go to Vue because they are always at the front and never have 3 seats together (for our little boy as well). We have a The Light cinema near us and as lovely as it is the front row is so near the screen we all end with neck ache or my little boy is scared witless from the sound! We end up at our local odeon or independent as the wheelchair spaces are at the back. But our favourite if not more expensive and over an hour trip for us was when we went to Showcase deluxe cinemas where the wheelchair spaces were in the middle of the cinema and the experience was fantastic, we could all sit together and everyone was happy

    1. Hi Vicky

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your personal experiences at cinemas. It’s great to know that you found Showcase deluxe and odeon the best for wheelchair spaces. I really need to go and check them out – I keep hearing great things about these two cinemas. It’s the best when the family can all sit together 🙂

  6. We gave the cinema info about their current positioning of wheelchair accessible space positioning. About lack of view in corner, better placed more central and not on the row with constant blockage of people walking about. Cinema Carrickfergus refurbishment completed and seating is even worse positions!!!

    1. Oh no! That is awful Lee. Sorry to hear the refurbishment has made access and accessible seating worse. Disabled peoples views and suggestions should be seriously considered and taken on board as we are the best to advise on accessibility.

  7. Just came across your post… I love the Odeon at Glasgow Quay. Very handy if you drive since it has plenty of disabled parking. Plus the wheelchair spaces are all at the back/near the back of the screens since it’s built all on one level.

    I have an Odeon Limitless card and go there a lot. Because I can walk a little I usually book a ‘regular’ seat, but there’s usually at least 2-3 seats next to each wheelchair space. The wheelchair spaces are pretty massive, but easy to sit close to your partner/friend etc!

    Added bonus for anyone who can transfer – all of the Quay’s seating is luxury leather recliners! (And it’s not any more expensive than other cinemas).

    I used to like Cineworld on Renfrew Street when I was more able, but I find it awful now. Especially since they redecorated – I’m autistic and the lighting is total sensory overload. Not a clue how they made it dark but overwhelming at the same time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.