Facing up to unfair treatment

Judith and Laura Merry
Judith and Laura Merry

A PAIR of disabled movie-lovers went face-to-face with the heads of the UK’s leading cinema chains at Westminster to demand action to end the “second-class service” that disabled people face at many venues.

Twin sisters Judith and Laura Merry, 23, from Worminghall, who have the genetic muscle condition congenital muscular dystrophy, joined fellow members of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, a group of 400 disabled campaigners aged 16 to 30 who tackle social injustices faced by young disabled people, as they called on cinema industry leaders and MPs to put an end to the ‘second-class service’ they say many disabled people receive at the cinema.

The Trailblazers presented a petition with more than a thousand signatures to Number 10 Downing Street.

Earlier this year 100 members of the group undertook undercover investigations at 125 venues across the UK to examine the issues faced by disabled customers and have produced a documentary called Lights, Camera, Access, on the problems they encountered.

Judith and Laura reported on facilities at local cinemas for the investigation and were interviewed on camera about their experiences for the documentary, which is being shown at film festivals throughout the country.

Their campaign was sparked after young disabled people reported struggling to enjoy a trip to see a film with friends and family – even at cinemas just a few years old.

It has been backed by British film industry figures including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Miranda Richardson and Sigourney Weaver.

The investigation found poor or very poor views of the screen from wheelchair-accessible seating at one in three of the major cinema venues

More than half of the major chain cinemas have uncomfortable accessible seating areas, causing discomfort or even pain while viewing

Staff with poor or very poor disability awareness at a third of the major chain cinemas, often leading to rude or embarrassing treatment of disabled customers

Nearly half of all the cinemas in the study did not offer an online ticket service for disabled customers.

At the meeting, members of Trailblazers called on a panel including Odeon CCO Roger Harris, Vue CEO Steve Knibbs and Cineworld Vice President of Operations Matt Eyre to commit to tackling cinema accessibility problems and to work with disability groups and architects towards solutions.

Judith said: “Two venues of the same cinema chain can vary dramatically in how well they accommodate disabled people.

“Despite having a brilliant experience at one, at the next you might find yourself struggling to get through to the auditorium, unable to sit with friends, forced to sit with an uncomfortable view of the screen and being treated like an unwelcome nuisance by the staff.

“As customers, we are simply asking for a fair, consistent service for disabled movie-lovers, so that we can go to the cinema with confidence.”

Laura said: “Today we will have the heads of the major cinema chains in one room with us - it is an incredible opportunity to be heard.”

Bobby Ancil, Trailblazers Project Manager said: “This is an opportunity for cinema-industry leaders to listen and learn about what their disabled customers need in order to enjoy their experience at the cinema. With 12 per cent of the cinema-going audience having a disability, this is simply not a group of consumers that they can afford to ignore.

“Today we want to see a commitment from each cinema to address the issues we have uncovered. We need to see an attitudinal shift away from ticking the box on disabled access and towards working with Trailblazers and other disability groups to find real solutions for their customers.”