For many, a visit to the movie theatre is a treat they take for granted but for individuals impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families, this kind of outing can present a unique set of challenges. A new program entitled Sensory Friendly Screenings, developed by Cineplex Entertainment in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, removes barriers that can prevent the ASD community from enjoying the movie theatre experience.
It is Cineplex’s stated goal to make movie-going accessible to as many Canadians as possible, says Pat Marshall, vice-president of communications and investor relations at Cineplex Entertainment. She explains that Sensory Friendly Screenings include showing films in 2D, with increased house lighting and lower speaker volumes – and the screenings take place during off-peak times, before theatres are open to the general public.
“It was important for us to work with Autism Speaks Canada to really understand what individuals on the autism spectrum need,” Marshall explains, adding that theatres also provide a nearby calm zone where families can take a break from the screening.
“Since we know that there are often dietary restrictions associated with individuals on the autism spectrum, we give them the opportunity to bring in their own food,” Marshall says. “And to enable families to come to the screening and keep it as affordable as possible, we’re offering tickets with the children’s price for everyone who attends.”
The first screenings on Valentine’s Day received an “overwhelmingly positive response from families, the community at large and – most importantly – the children. For many of them, it was the very first time they were at a movie theatre and it opened up a whole new world for them,” says Marshall.
This is not the first program aiming to make Cineplex theatres accessible and enjoyable for a wide range of audiences, says Marshall, who mentions Stars on Strollers, a one-day-a-month program that allows new parents and their children to enjoy the movies.
She adds that the availability of technology also allows enhanced access, such as closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired, and the Fidelio system that provides a description of what is happening in the movie for the benefit of a blind or sight-impaired audience.
Due to the enthusiastic reception of the Sensory Friendly Screenings, Marshall says Cineplex sees an immediate demand for expanding the program to additional screenings as well as different locations across the country.
“We have a number of new films coming out and hope that even more people will come to share the experience,” says Marshall. “Our sense from the feedback is that this is a disorder that impacts a lot of people but doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves. The program has helped to create awareness, which is a wonderful added benefit.”