Kristen Lopez on Movie Theater Accessibility for Rogerebert.com
Posted on March 29, 2018 at 9:27 am
Bravo to Kristen Lopez for her outstanding piece on rogerebert.com about the accessibility — or inaccessibility — of movie theaters for people with disabilities.
A movie theater should be a peaceful, relaxing place, and I’m sure it is for most in light of reserved seating. Movie theaters have gussied the concept up as the perfect way for all audiences to get the best seat in the house. But movie fans with wheelchairs or other limited mobility don’t get the best seat—they get the only seat. Theaters are mandated to make approximately 10% of the theater seats accessible, so obtaining the two to four wheelchair spaces in my theater can be like a terrible game of musical chairs. The outdated, ableist thinking is wheelchair users bring their own seat, like a lawn chair you plant on a soccer field. It gives them access, but how is this effective with such a small field to play on? Wheelchair users are often stuck sitting in the front rows, on flat ground with no elevation to keep a clear view. The changeover to wider, recliner-style chairs has actually decreased the number of handicap seats, and many of these new chairs come with oversized footrests or outward facing tray tables that prevent wheelchair users from transferring into them to begin with. The same Cinemark I was in has one presumably handicap seat that requires a wheelchair user to climb over the armrest to transfer into. All so you can find a place to set down your popcorn.
This is especially meaningful because Roger Ebert himself used a wheelchair for the last years of his life, and well understood the barriers — physical, logistical, and ignorant — that keep people out of movies, the very art form he called “an empathy machine.”