I recently went back to the cinema for the first time since January 2020 and I was really nervous about what to expect. My memories of previous visits involve crowded entrances, loud music, strong smells, and different sounds playing all at once. This film unfortunately wasn’t an autism friendly screening as I was unable to find any that were appropriate for adults. The cinema I chose to visit was Odeon and this will be the focus of this ‘Autism Review’.
Before your visit:
As always, I looked at the website (www.odeon.co.uk) before my visit to find out about the information available in terms of accessibility for autistic people. There is some information available about ‘Specially-adapted screenings’ which explains what to expect at one of their autism friendly sessions. However, this information is only relevant if you visit on those particular days when the screening takes place. Whilst the inclusion of these screenings is fantastic, the accessibility information should be there to reflect all visits. This is another reason why I wanted to highlight the accessibility in this review.
This information also gives information on how to find an adapted screening, however when I tried to follow the instructions, the options it listed did not match those instructions, so this was difficult to use.
I was very concerned to read in the accessibility information that Odeon hope that those with sensory difficulties will become comfortable with the environment they will be able to attend standard screenings. The adapted screenings will hopefully consider their sensory needs, which standard screenings don’t so this could lead to potential complete sensory overload if those adaptations are not there all the time.
During your visit:
Upon arrival it was quite difficult to understand where to go in the car park as there was a lack of signage and a number of lanes, so this needs to be clearer. The confusion also continued when trying to find the entrance to the cinema as there were a number of signs for both the cinema and a gym above the same doors despite not having the same entrance. Once inside there was a sign containing important information about parking, this information should come before you enter the cinema. It was also on a bright yellow/green background which made it very difficult to read.
Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised with the lighting and sound levels. As I explained earlier, my experiences of cinemas in the past have always involved sensory overload caused by the environment. However, there was just one source of music on this occasion which was playing at a low level. This meant you couldn’t hear any background noises but also weren’t overwhelmed by the volume. The lighting level was also low which helped to create an inclusive environment. I also chose to visit during the week which meant the cinema was quiet so I was able to avoid the usual crowds.
I didn’t have very many interactions with the staff whilst I was there, but the ones I did have were very brief. This can be beneficial as it means that you are not pressured into conversations straight away, but it did also have its negatives. The first member of staff I spoke to merely scanned my ticket but didn’t confirm the film I was there to see, the screen it was in or the seats I had booked. This would have been helpful to ensure that I was clear with what I needed to do next, as such the lack of welcome meant I didn’t feel comfortable asking anything. The other interaction I had with staff was more positive and they did offer to help if needed.
The film itself did involve far too many adverts and trailers, which felt excessive given the number of people who were in the cinema. I understand that in the adapted screenings these are not shown so perhaps if they want to encourage us to go to standard screenings the number of adverts does need to be reconsidered. The film I saw was already quite long so adding adverts meant I had to stay in one place for a longer period of time. I also noticed that the volume appeared to change depending on the advert being shown which meant that as I adjusted to one volume, it changed to another. The screen I was in was extremely cold which was also a sensory issue as I was unable to control my own temperature even with the layers I was wearing, and this became a distraction from the film. I was also distracted a number of times by random flashing lights in the screen as well. I did like the reclining chairs and have the ability to choose the position I was sat in which helped me to be more comfortable.
Overall, there were several strengths for accessibility for autistic people however there are also several areas that aren’t accessible. The information provided before your visit does need to be much clearer and relevant for all visits not just adapted screenings.