Film Industry Urges All UK Cinemas to Become Autism-Friendly

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Apr 2, 2019

Film Industry Urges All UK Cinemas to Become Autism-Friendly

To mark World Autism Awareness Day, Dimensions is partnering with the UK Cinema Association and BFI Film Audience Network to launch free training resources, available to all cinemas across the UK

Dimensions, a national autism and learning disability support provider, which pioneered autism-friendly initiatives in cinemas nationwide, has ramped up their partnership with the UK Cinema Association and BFI Film Audience Network (FAN). Supported by National Lottery funding, they have developed free autism-friendly training resources for all cinemas and cinema staff across the country.

The training, launched at the start of World Autism Awareness Month, was developed by people on the autistic spectrum and industry experts. In becoming ‘autism-friendly’, cinema staff are trained on how to make small adjustments to the environment that creates a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for autistic people.

Autism-friendly screenings are intended to open up and make cinemas more accessible for autistic people, and may help people on the spectrum transition into attending traditional screenings.

The launch coincides with research from Dimensions highlighting the pivotal role of autism-friendly screenings in helping autistic people feel valued and included in society. In December 2018, Dimensions surveyed 1,675 people on the autistic spectrum about their experience with going to the cinema. In some cases, responses were provided by family members or carers on behalf of the autistic person.

The research found that some elements of a traditional cinema screening can discourage visits from people on the autistic spectrum - 80% of whom have felt excluded from their local community. Their top concerns include too much noise, having to sit through adverts and trailers, and worrying about being judged by others.

Sarah Clarke, Campaign Manager at Dimensions, said: “Most people don’t have to think twice about going to the cinema, but if you have autism it can be a stressful experience. We’ve been campaigning for years for more autism-friendly environments and we’ve seen first-hand how successful these initiatives can be. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We found that over 90% of autistic people would go to the cinema more if there were more autism-friendly opportunities. With our new training, we’re calling on every cinema in the UK to become autism-friendly, to ensure current and potential guests feel welcome and valued, and – in turn – help make society more inclusive.”

The training provides guidance on how to make small adjustments, such as altering the volume and lighting levels. As a result, people who go to autism-friendly screenings feel more valued and understood (33%) and more connected to their community (27%). Crucially, breaking down barriers to inclusion and communication, four in 10 autistic people (41%) say that autism-friendly screenings give them a reason to leave the house.

Lauren, 18, is autistic and helped produce the training. She said: “Film is a real passion of mine and I am proud to have helped develop this training with Dimensions. Autism-friendly cinema screenings help people feel more relaxed and confident, so you can fully immerse yourself in the film without worrying about being judged.

“It also means so much to families and friends, who can relax and spend quality time together instead of feeling like they have to stay home. It’s so important that there are more autism-friendly environments across the UK so everyone can benefit.”


Photo credit: Dimensions

Since Dimensions first launched its autism-friendly cinemas initiative eight years ago, there have been over 400,000 visits to over 350 autism-friendly cinema sites (out of over 1,000 cinema sites in the UK). Yet, with a quarter of autistic people (24%) having never attended an autism-friendly screening, there is an urgent need for more cinemas to participate to ensure this opportunity is available across the country.

Phil Clapp, Chief Executive of the UK Cinema Association, said: “The positive response in recent years from audiences to autism-friendly screenings has seen more and more UK cinemas look to offer these shows, with these becoming a regular feature of programming at many sites. At the same time, there is also increasing interest in offering a broader range of content, for example for older audiences.”

The initiative is part of a wider Dimensions campaign to create more autism-friendly environments around the UK. For a full list of participating autism-friendly cinema locations, visit Dimension’s website.

For more information about autism including diagnosis processes, support and more, visit Counselling Directory.

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