Bearing Disability: A Recently Distant Cinema Visit

abstract analog art camera found in old cinema cameras.
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Everyone loves the cinema. But do they always make you feel loved back? Recently, a friend of mine posted a link to this article on her facebook page. It discusses the discrimination disabled people face when getting to venues for concerts, live performances, etc. And it seems the same thing kind of happens in cinemas – just not as bad.

I mean, unlike these venues, we do have the CEA card when booking to see a film. This allows us to prebook a disabled seat / one free carer online if we need to. But a recent visit to the cinema with my friend, Sophie, showed a lack of some basic and yet vital accessible features.

I do not want to name and shame this cinema just because it’s the most recent one I have been to. For all I know, other cinema companies have done the same thing. But I do want to talk about accessibility in the cinema.

When I go to the cinema with a friend, I like to sit close to them. Have a little gossip before the film, talk about the trailers and laugh at the adverts.

I like to actually feel I am there with a friend and not separated by some sort of school class seating plan. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, the girl-boy arrangement at school.

Now you may be wondering what that kind of arrangement has with the cinema. I mean, you wouldn’t normally link cinema and school under the same experience, right?

Chairs Miles Apart from Space…

Only, a recent visit made it feel a bit like one of those seating plans.

I went to the cinema with my friend Sophie on the 19th June. Sophie and I both have hemiplegia. I have right-hemiplegia and Sophie has left-hemiplegia. We joke that we are each other’s other half, because, you know, she’s my right hand and I’m her left hand. Sophie happens to use a wheelchair and has no means to transfer into a seat. So as usual, we book our tickets and we head to the wheelchair space at the front of the cinema.

Recently, the cinema has made a big change, removing all standard seats and replacing them all with reclining chairs. This is where the problem lies.

As former media students and students who study the creative industry, we like to poke fun at the techniques the advertisers try to use. But the distance between my chair and her space prevented us from doing this easily. The wheelchair space is so far from the reclining seats that we practically had to shout our conversation while the adverts were on.

It also meant that if we needed to say something or wanted to pass something during the film, we had to catch each others attention or half shout. The ability to pass drinks and snacks is another part that is affected by the distance of the seats from one another. We both often ended up reaching out, full length to pass each other the snacks – but this is not the only issue.

Wheelchair users don’t need trays?

There is no tray or holder of any kind in the wheelchair space.My reclining seat had a tray which I could pull towards me so I could enjoy my drink and eat my snacks without taking my eyes off the screen. However, it was a different story for Sophie. The lack of tray meant she had to rely on me to pass her her drink. Good job we both have the opposite hemiplegia – would have been difficult and awkward if we both were right-hemiplegia or left-hemiplegia. We would both be cross reaching…

Now, I obviously don’t mind helping Sophie out but just because I don’t mind, doesn’t mean she feels the same way. The lack of tray takes away some of the independence she has. Not only that, it made her consider what type of drink and snack she is able to take into the cinema. As Sophie could not hold the cup without the tray, she only filled the cup halfway rather than to the top. Essentially, she paid almost double for what would be equivalent to a small cup.

While this had not spoiled our day, it did have an impact on our viewing experience as an audience. Especially Sophie’s. She has told me she has written them a complaint, so here is hoping that they will listen and that our next cinema trip is better.

Cinema Improvement Suggestions

But in the meantime, here are a few suggestions Sophie and I think could solve this issue if the Cinema implements them.

  • Closing the gap or removing the step level between the wheelchair space and the seats. This would make the film feel more social, rather than making it feel as if we came alone.
  • adding a few trays and/or cup holders into the wheelchair area. This would give Sophie and others that use a wheelchair the independence to choose when to drink without relying on friends.
  • Alternatively, let the reclining tray rotate 180 degrees rather than 90degrees so that it is in a more reachable distance.

I assume other cinemas have started to replace their chairs to the recliners too. I haven’t been to another cinema company for awhile, but if they haven’t started replacing the chairs, I am sure they will soon. So, I just hope they don’t take away the wheelchair cup-holders and trays too. I also hope that the cinema we went to comes up with a solution to fix the problem.

Despite this, I would like to state that the staff were helpful as we headed to the screen, pressing the lift buttons for us and opening the doors. In this particular cinema branch, I have never had a bad word to say about the staff or their attitude to disability.

Thanks for Reading

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Visit Little Sea Bear on Tuesday to welcome a new writer to the site, LilyMay, who will be helping out in Berg’s Book Club and the site for a while. For her first post, she will review Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell.



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