Bosses from the country’s three leading cinema chains have been given a grilling by young disabled activists over their failure to make their screens more accessible.
Leading executives from Cineworld, Odeon and Vue attended a parliamentary meeting as part of an ongoing inquiry into the issues affecting the lives and independence of young disabled people.
The session of the all-party parliamentary group for young disabled people – which is chaired by the disabled MP Paul Maynard – followed the publication in August of The Big Picture, a report by the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners.
All three cinema chains had refused to take part in Lights, Camera, Access, a film produced by Trailblazers to promote the report and campaign, which was shown during this week’s meeting.
Members of Trailblazers – which is run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign – had earlier handed in a 1,000-name petition to Downing Street calling for cinema access to be improved.
Trailblazer Vivek Gohil, a wheelchair-user, told the meeting that some screens at his local cinema only gave him the option of sitting at the front, which was “particularly unsuitable for disabled people who might have limited movement and may be unable to strain their necks”.
He said: “Instead of being excited to go out with friends I am anxious to get a comfortable viewing position.”
Gohil said such experiences were common among disabled people, and he appealed to the executives present to “raise the bar on accessibility and to commit to improving access”, although he accepted that “it does appear that things are heading in the right direction”.
The Big Picture, which investigated 125 cinema venues across the UK, concluded that practice was improving, particularly at independent cinemas and the smaller chains, but many of the cinemas run by major chains were still providing a second-class service.
Problems included uncomfortable viewing areas, inaccessible auditoria and refreshment areas, poor staff disability awareness, broken lifts, heavy doors and poor lighting, while it was sometimes impossible to enter the venue at all because there was no accessible entrance.
One in three venues run by the major chains were found to offer poor or very poor views of the screen from their wheelchair-accessible spaces.
But Phil Clapp, chief executive of the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association, said the film and report had painted an unfair picture of access at cinemas.
He told the meeting: “We believe that the picture painted in the report and the film is too negative, incomplete and, we would argue, unfair for a sector that works extremely hard to improve practice in this area.”
He and the cinema executives answered a series of questions from Trailblazers on issues such as the provision of wheelchair spaces, accessible toilets, online booking and staff training.