Accessibility November 28, 2020
As theaters reopen post Covid crisis, India’s disabled community hopes for accessible cinema halls
The Covid crisis has shifted movie watching experience from theaters to online platforms where you can enjoy movies sitting inside your living rooms. For people with disabilities, it is nothing new since they have been forced to stay indoors and watch movies due to inaccessibility at movie halls. As theaters are set to reopen, India’s disabled community hopes to see some changes.
Last year in October, Information and Broadcasting ministry issued a directive to CBFC asking them to use audio descriptions and closed captioning in cinema halls to make theater experience accessible for visually impaired people. The Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 highlights on the importance of movie halls, multiplexes to be made accessible for people with all kinds of disabilities. Till last March, when theaters closed due to the pandemic, nothing has been implemented. As they are all set to reopen soon, India’s disabled community hopes things would get better.
The many hurdles faced by movie goers with disabilities
Now that all movies are shifted to OTT platforms, people understands the fun and excitement of watching a movie inside a theater. India’s disabled community were always forced to watch movies inside their homes due to lack of accessibility of movie halls. They can go to a theater only if accompanied by a family member or friend. For deaf community, cinema watching experience is often impossible because most film-makers do not add sub-titles.
Paresh Palicha, a renowned film critic from Kerala does not like missing any new releases that hits big screens on Fridays. His father used to ensure that Paresh watches all movies, but after he passed away Paresh is unable to watch movies on the first day of release since he is a wheelchair user.
“I cannot go to a theater on my own. The one we have near my home is way more accessible when compared to many others in Kochi where I live. But I still need help”, he says. When asked if a change must be seen post Covid crisis, Paresh adds, “We cannot expect a drastic change. Most of the theater owners if asked about accessibility talks as if they are doing us a favor”.
Salesh Deepak from Chennai has mobility issues, but being an ardent movie buff he doesn’t miss movies of his favorite stars, especially ones that releases in Tamil. Salesh needs space to keep his hands. He says even while buying snacks, he makes sure that they bring it to his seat so that he doesn’t have to move around.
“But due to the Covid crisis, I’am skeptical on how to visit theaters again. Usually someone at the exit helps me to get in or out. But since it is important to make sure we do not get in contact with others, I have my doubts about going to theaters”, he says adding, “Now OTT is our only option. Accessibility has always been zero in our theaters. They need to do something, but will they actually do it? They have issues concerning people without disabilities that needs to be handled. So will they take care of ours? Honestly, I don’t think they will take the extra efforts”.
Need for inclusive movie watching experience
Wheelchair user Biju Paul who lives in Kerala says that there are a couple of theaters in his small town Thrissur that are accessible. “But I cannot go there alone because someone needs to help lift me up to the seat. Even government theaters like Kairali in state capital are not accessible for disabled. Now that theater owners have a lot of time, they must be working on installing ramps and other facilities”, says Biju adding that theater owners are clueless about how to promote accessibility.
“I had spoken to a few owners and they were willing to install ramps. But they do not know how to do it. They do not even know that people with disabilities go outdoors or go to a movie theater”, he says.
Films are an integral part of the society. It takes us to another world where we are away from reality, something which most of us want to experience for two to three hours. Most importantly, it also helps us to know better about other people’s perspectives. Denying all these to one community is not just unfair but unlawful too. It is not just theater owners, but producers, directors, actors and movie-goers have an active role to play in making cinema experience accessible to people with disabilities.
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