ODEON Luxe Broadway Plaza is my go-to cinema. I’ve always liked this cinema, especially since the re-designing of the place. There is a Costa and chairs and tables where people can sit before or after the movie. The layout of the entrance is very accessible.
When I go to the cinema with a friend, I like to sit close to them, have a little gossip before the film, talk about the trailers and laugh at the adverts. I like to feel I am there with a friend and not separated by some sort of school class seating plan that leaves me feeling isolated. The renovations done by Odeon have provided more luxurious seating and tables for those using them. Unfortunately, these changes have not provided the same level of improvement for disabled patrons.
The disabled spot does not include a table to place my drinks and snacks on. The nearest table belongs to another person seated alongside the disabled space. I am only able to use it if no one is in that seat. Even if I am to use this table it is difficult to access. The worst part about the layout is the large gap between me and my companion(s). The previous layout allowed me to sit near to whomever I was with, while the new layout has made that impossible.
Although it is manageable when visiting with an able-bodied friend, it can become much harder to navigate when visiting with a friend who is disabled. On a visit to the cinema with a friend who also has hemiplegia (paralysis of one side) I experienced how much more difficult a visit could be. I had to stay in the wheelchair space while my friend was able to use the reclining seats which were so far apart- we practically had to shout our conversation. We couldn’t pass snacks and drinks to one another with ease. This was only possible as my friend is paralysed on the opposite side to me. If this had not been the case, I would not have been able to have snacks or drinks throughout the film.
This experience undermined my attempts to be independent. Although it is great that the Odeon caters to disabled patrons, I hope in future it may consider scenarios where more than one disabled patron visited a screen, or how disabled patrons can use the cinema without someone able-bodied being with them.
While this is upsetting, the staff are very understanding of the situation and allow me to position my wheelchair towards the front of the screen where there is a space so I can sit with my friends or family. Staff have always been helpful at this Odeon. When I visited with my disabled friend, they were quick to help us to get into the lift and with opening doors.
Following my experience, I wrote a letter to the General Manager.
To the General Manager,
My name is Sophie Abel, and I am writing to you regarding accessibility and the facilities within the Odeon cinema at Broadway Plaza. It is my local cinema and I attend quite regularly but as a full-time electric user, I have struggled with the accessibility since it had a refurb. For one, there is a very large step in all of the upstairs screens between the disabled space and the first seat. This means that when I come with a friend or family member, they are sat a lot higher than me, and I have to shout to get their attention. They also struggle to pass me things like drinks and cinema snacks. It ruins the socialising ability of the trip. I have spoken to someone about this before, but nothing has become of my complaint.
I also want to draw your attention to the lack of a Changing Places facility. As part of my disability, I need a hoist to transfer on and off the toilet and though there is a standard disabled toilet within the cinema, I am unable to use it because of the lack of suitability. Last time I went to the cinema to watch a film with a friend, I used the bathroom at home before I came to the cinema, aware of the absence of any suitable facilities but halfway through the film, I ended up being desperate for the toilet and it became very painful to hold it until I got back home.
I therefore am reluctant to come back to the cinema for future films. I would have expected that a refurbishment would have involved introducing facilities that meet the current needs of your customers and not those in the past. The arrangement within the auditorium itself has worsened my experienced and it is clear that the designer of these changes has no appreciation of accompanying a wheelchair user.
I am a great user of social media and often review the places I visit. Unfortunately, I may have to point out these problems in my blog posts which will deter other customers. Can you advise me by return of your intentions regarding rectification to avoid these defects being posted online.
I went in person to deliver the letter and asked to speak to the manager. I was introduced immediately. He did not understand what I meant at first and assumed I meant the disabled toilet when speaking about the changing place facility. I had to go and show him what I meant by the seating arrangements. He was quite receptive to my complaints and, when shown what I meant, he was horrified by the challenges. He told me he would follow it up and that he would forward my letter.
I received an email that night to say he had done so and told me if I didn’t get a response from appropriate people I could email him back. I was impressed with this, but after that, I did not get another email from those he had forwarded my complaint to. I emailed the manager again. There has been no further contact whatsoever.