Our rights to cinema access

Posted by: Karen McQuigg, on 05/03/10

I knew my place in the community from a young age. I soon discovered many of its benefits. Benefits included access to the public library, swimming pool and local cinema. They provided education, health and leisure. I did not think about anyone in the community missing out. But if I did, I would have thought there must be a good reason. That’s what entitlement means. People with a disability would not have crossed my mind back then. People with a disability were still largely hidden from view in institutions. I had never even met a Deaf person.

From an article quoted in Devine, following an article in The Age Our rights to cinema access – DiVine Site

Then everything changed. A visit to the doctor in my 30s resulted in surgery that left me deaf.

Acquired disability is a challenging thing. When you grow up in the “mainstream community” it is easy to think you have liberal ideas about disability. It is easy to applaud the recent drive to make communities accessible to people with a disability. But the confronting truth is that being on the receiving end of these attitudes feels very different. The message from government is that people with a disability should have equal access to community life. But the attitude from community organisations and industry is different. Their attitude is that allowing people with disabilities to come to your event or your service is an act of generosity.

Even some people who have grown up with a disability are unsure. Many do not have equal access to education, health and leisure activities from a young age. People with a disability might be encouraged by talk of how they can participate in community life. But then they are hesitant about asking to access aspects of it, like going to the movies.

Refusing to provide access

This is the environment that the current debate over access to cinemas needs to be considered. Cinemas are currently refusing to provide a decent level of access to the movies for Deaf, hearing-impaired, blind and vision-impaired people.

A good example is audio description technology. The technology allows people with poor vision to hear descriptions of visual aspects of the movie. The descriptions are received using headsets while the movie is projected. It is commonly available overseas but rarely provided in Australia.

To vision-impaired people, the captioning provided for Deaf and hearing-impaired people must seem generous in comparison. But it is still woefully inadequate. Apart from Cinema Nova, only one movie is shown in metropolitan Melbourne with captions each week. The captioned movie is only shown three times a week at the Jam Factory. Of course, attendance is low because of the:

  • unpopular time slots (such as 10am Wednesday)
  • lack of choice
  • location
  • the cinema’s refusal to give a definite time when the movie will be shown until the day itself.

The tipping point

People with a disability have endured this low level of access for years. The tipping point only came in November last year. Four cinemas chains applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act. They wanted a two-and-a-half year exemption in exchange for minimal access improvements.

When the commission asked for public comment, the floodgates opened. Over 400 submissions were received from people that until now have endured too much. Protests have also been held outside cinemas across Australia.

The protest is one of the first tests of our government’s commitment to inclusion. But what chance do small communities have of succeeding against a wealthy cinema industry?

Blind and Deaf people are bravely stepping forward and saying I am entitled to go to the movies because I am part of the community. But it is going to be up to the rest of the community to support inclusion. Support will require effort, imagination and money.

It is also time for government to step up to the plate. Our governments must support inclusion on everyday issues like this. Otherwise they should have the courage to tell it like it really is so we can all know where Australia really stands on human rights.

Readers comments (4)

Posted by: Heather, Melbourne 05/03/2010 at 03:08pm

Under the Disability Act 1992 isn’t it a Breach of this act NOT to supply needs for the deaf and blind ? I read I think in the Shut Out Parliamentry Report by Ms. Galbally, or the Access all Areas Report of 2009 that a Mediation Only Process through the current Human Rights people for disabled rights has been largely unsuccessful. Discrimination is still systemic and automatic still. Several people + Organisations in the Access All Areas report suggest that we need to empower the Australian Human Rights. They need to be the Judge and Jury and NOT a court in the matters of wheelchair access, deaf + vision impaired persons requirements. I suggest not many (none) disabled persons have gone on to the Federal Court to have a Judge decide whether or Not the disabled should have their rights. Or whether it is ‘unjustifiable hardship costs’ that allow building owners to get out of compliance. If you lost your case you would have to pay the other party’s legal costs – lose your house and savings just for access or hearing or vision rights !! Other western countries UK, EU, Canada are more progressive and have empowered their Human Rights to the judge + jury – even to take anonymous (to the offender) complaints. I asked Mr. Graeme Innes who is our HR Commissioner how do we progresss our HR process. He tells me the Legislation needs to be changed to give him and the HR these powers. I have asked a young politician if he can help me do this. So EVERYBODY send an email of support for me to press ahead on this vital (for us) matter.

Posted by: Gary Barling, Warrnambool 08/03/2010 at 09:37pm

From my perspective, I find it most irritating that wheelchair users are only permitted to sit in a designated area, which is often at the rear of the cinema. Really, is there no understanding of the correlation between neurological disorders and poor vision? In my town the cinema is currently not operational due to a fire last winter. Call me a cynic, but I do not envision that things will be any different in the rebuilt cinema. And once again, the “unjustifiable hardship” argument will likely be used to dismiss the idea of chair lifts etc being installed so wheelchair users can reach the cinema/s on the second level, where new movies has invariably been shown first before moving to cinemas on the ground level..

Posted by: Heather, Melbourne 09/03/2010 at 01:19pm

Gary – nothing will change until we all stand up for our rights and the Australian Human Rights people are empowered. If the HR were the judge + jury in deciding if a breach of the Act has taken place, if ‘unjustifiable’ hardship is in fact the case. Or apply a time frame of 2-5 years to fix it and enforce the requirements. When they know there is an ‘enforcer’ these places will then be put on notice and certainly ‘assisted’ in their choice of premises in the first place. Its crazy to have these Acts with nobody enabled to enforce them. I feel sure that our HR people are all very capable and would carry out this enforcement task with gusto – if only the governments will empower them to do so. I think in the case of a new building (or a re-build) the council have to (by law)ensure they comply with access standards set in 1992. It is the old buildings (retro-fit) that do not have to comply and currently are not enforced to comply.

Posted by: Kermit, 04/05/2010 at 10:02am

Very pleased to see the exemption denied. Will be interesting now to see if the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is now flooded with complaints from people with a disability that they are being discriminated against by the cinema operators. What happens then?

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