How can exhibitors welcome disabled audiences once cinemas begin to reopen? Lockdown provides a prime opportunity for venues to reflect and improve access during UK Disability History Month.
Writing for The Bigger Picture, film writer Charlotte Little notes some basic steps towards inclusive movie-going that venues can explore during lockdown.
This month (18 November – 20 December) is UK Disability History Month and while venues nationwide have made massive strides in accessibility over the decades, the on-going fallout from Covid-19 will provide new challenges for exhibitors and audiences alike.
Staff members should complete a disability and deafness awareness training course. If staff feel more comfortable discussing disability and assisting disabled customers, this eases anxieties for both staff members and disabled or D/deaf audiences. COVID-19 restrictions have made unfamiliar environments even more daunting, particularly in relation to face coverings and social distancing, as this adversely affects D/deaf and blind people. It’s important to research which organisation you choose to provide training, and consultation with someone who has lived experiences of disability or deafness is preferred. There are several national disability organisations who provide awareness training, or you could even contact a local disability charity.
Everyone should be able to experience film without barriers, and accessible screenings are a necessary step towards inclusive experiences for moviegoers.
- Inclusive Cinema: Quick tips for running relaxed screenings
- Inclusive Cinema: Autism-friendly screenings
Scheduling regular captioned screenings, audio described showings, relaxed screenings, and dementia-friendly screenings are essential to providing accommodated cinema experiences for disabled and D/deaf audiences. Outreach, marketing, and promotion are key to the success of regular accessible screenings. Exhibitors should reach out to local deaf organisations and disability charities to engage with the target demographic and establish connections. Interaction with community groups helps to increase awareness of these provisions, and this outreach should be paired alongside explicit social media and website promotion. You should want disabled and D/deaf people to attend your venue, and your social media should reflect this attitude.
- SQIFF’s Deaf and Disabled Accessibility Guide
- Case study: Increasing the visibility of people with a learning disability on screen
- Opening our Doors presentation by Oska Bright – Welcoming learning disabled audiences
- Luminate Scotland – Ensuring your venues and events are accessible to all
- Culturehive – An accessible marketing guide
- Scope – End the Awkward campaign
If information about access or screening information is being distributed online, then digital access is imperative, so that everyone can access the same information without any barriers. This would include alt text and descriptions for images, captions for videos, hashtag formatting, and so on. There are plenty of resources available, and most social media platforms enable alt text. If you are able to add an Accessibility Toolbar to your website, then this is encouraged so that users can adjust the website to their access needs.
Masks aren’t going away any time soon, and exhibitors should be aware that whilst they are necessary, they impose an additional communication barrier for D/deaf and hard of hearing people. If possible, staff members should wear a clear mask to allow for lipreading. If you are purchasing masks with clear panels, then try to source one from a deaf organisation or creator, such as Molly Watt Trust. You can research other providers online and read reviews to decide which product is best for your venue.
Staff members can download apps that transcribe speech to text, such as Live Transcribe or Otter.ai, which can be used if a customer is struggling to understand. Additionally, you can use your phone’s Notes application. A simple measure would be to have pens and paper (or a whiteboard) available, which can be used if there are any communication issues.
As exhibitors navigate through an unprecedented age of cinema, it’s crucial to make access a priority, and not an afterthought.