World Disability Day: Making our cinema theatres inclusive for all

A snapshot of a wheelchair-accessible theatre

A snapshot of a wheelchair-accessible theatre   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, here’s how we can make our theatres inclusive with audio descriptions, step climbers and ramps. PVR’s Accessible Cinema Program is a step in the right direction

A few weeks ago, I happened to watch Priya Ramasubban’s film, Chuskit, on television, screened as part of the ongoing Tata Sky Mumbai Film Festival. The film — winner of the Best Feature in the Half Ticket section at the Jio Mumbai Academy of Moving Image Film Festival last year — follows the story of a feisty girl in Ladakh who fights her grandfather for her education, after an ice skating accident renders her paraplegic. From a doctor introducing her to a wheelchair to her brother designing a ramp elevator with his friends, brilliantly-shot scenes capture how Chuskit struggles to make her way through the region’s rough terrain.

While such films highlight the many obstacles people with disabilities face in their daily lives, how does one bring these films — as well as mainstream cinema — to the disabled when we lack inclusive infrastructure? When queries regarding accessibility started coming in through customer outreach initiatives, Sangeeta Robinson, Head, Sustainability and Inclusion, PVR Cinemas, began working on inclusivity in their theatres.

On the app

Since the brand’s Accessible Cinema Program was launched in February 2018, they’ve gone beyond ramps. They now have audio description for the visually-impaired as part of the app, XL Cinemas. “Hearing, speech and vision impairment account for over 65% of total disabilities. Very few films come with subtitles and no Indian film has been released yet with audio descriptions for the blind, wherein non-verbal parts are narrated, including expressions and special effects via scripted audio content. Until now, these have been developed for six films on the app — audio has been described for four films by an NGO, Saksham, and for the remaining two by the app’s founders, Kunaal Prasad and Dipti Prasad,” says Robinson.

As per the Global Cinema Federation’s 2018 survey, which covered 27 countries, only 11 have employed some form of technology to give patrons an enjoyable cinema experience. It states that certain exhibitors ‘use technology such as captioning glasses or hearing impaired systems like telecoils or infrared auditory aids’. Several responses in the survey also referenced different mobile applications such as Actiview in the US and UDCast in Japan that provide captions and/or audio description.

The PVR programe’s first phase (concluded in December 2018) has made 50 cinemas in Mumbai, NCR, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai, among others, accessible with roll-a-ramps and automated stair lifts. “While booking a ticket on the website and app, users can now identify theatres with wheelchair access. In addition, the subtitle sign is shown for films with the option, and made discoverable for people with hearing impairment,” says Robinson.

In the pipeline

The ongoing second phase (to be concluded by March 2020) will ensure 16 more cinemas across Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, NCR, Ludhiana, Mumbai and Pune are made wheelchair-friendly with step climbers. Sensory-friendly shows for people with intellectual disabilities — an ongoing initiative as part of SPI Cinemas’ SENS shows in Chennai and Coimbatore — will also be replicated in select cinemas/shows in the rest of the country. “In these shows, the theatre has lowered sound and its ambient lighting is on. Viewers are free to move about and speak during the show.” Introduced last year, the initiative was lauded as it transformed the movie-going experience for individuals with special needs and their families. Forty two shows (including two in the North), with films such as How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Frozen II, Bigil and Petta, have been screened till date.

While mobility-related issues are being addressed by PVR, the onus of making movies accessible to the hearing and vision impaired lies with producers, stresses Robinson. “Over the last few months, various groups and activists have approached the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. They, in turn, have written to the Producers’ Association of India to implement relevant tenants of The Rights of People with Disabilities Act 2016, and ‘motivate and persuade’ their members to produce films that are inclusive. This is a welcome move to make entertainment inclusive in our country,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 11:56:23 AM |

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