2. Background

Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey
Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey

In Wales, 22.5 percent of all pupils at local authority maintained schools and 16.0 per cent of all pupils at independent schools have some form of special educational need, a total of 104,957 (Statistics for Wales, 2015). The majority of these have either mild or moderate learning difficulties, which means that they need very little or no support to carry out everyday tasks (Hardy & Tilly, 2012).

The remaining pupils with special educational needs require a higher level of support, both in and out of school (Table 1.)

Description of need




Severe learning difficulties




Profound and Multiple learning difficulties




Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder




Autism Spectrum Disorder




Physical and medical difficulties






Behavioural, emotional and social difficulties




Hearing impairment








Visual impairment










Table 1: Total of pupils in schools in Wales who have special educational needs that require a high level of support, by need.

This makes a total of 31,578 children in Wales who potentially have specific access requirements and/or impairments that could form a barrier to visiting the cinema. If this is the case, then these children, plus their parents, carers and siblings, make up a large number of potential cinema audience members that may not be currently considered by cinemas.

Whilst many of the large chain cinemas are accessible for people (including children) with physical impairments, there are certain conditions whose symptoms are not readily apparent (for example autism spectrum conditions or ADHD), but which nevertheless affect the behaviour of children with those conditions in ways that is often deemed unacceptable in public.

Autism friendly screenings or relaxed screenings

Many of the major cinema chains (Cineworld, Odeon, Showcase, Vue) have made attempts to address the requirements of children on the autism spectrum by running regular ‘autism friendly’ screenings, in association with Dimensions UK. These are screenings of films that have had the screening environment adjusted to take into account the sensory needs of children and young people with autism. These screenings tend to happen at a time when the cinema is not so busy (usually on a Sunday morning), and the films that are shown are chosen for a family audience. In addition to this, the following adjustments are made:

- Lights left on low

- Sound turned down

- No trailers or advertisements (unless they are embedded in the film)

- Staff trained in autism awareness

- Disabled access

- Chill out zone, where available

- Freedom to move around and sit where you like

- Bring your own food and drink

- Free entry for carers with valid CEA Card.

(list adapted from Dimensions website)

For more information on Dimensions Autism Friendly screening scheme, visit: https://www.dimensions-uk.org/families/autism-friendly-screenings/

Picturehouse also holds Autism Friendly screenings, in association with the National Autistic Society. There are, however, currently no Picturehouse cinemas in Wales.

For more information about Picturehouse autism-friendly screening scheme, please visit: http://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/holidays-trips/picturehouse-cinemas.aspx

Social stories

As part of the autism friendly screening scheme, some venues have social stories about them available for download. A social story is a short description of a particular situation or event, presented in a sequential order, and often accompanied by illustrations or photographs. The intention of a social story is to make the situation or event more comprehensible to children with learning disabilities. 

An example of a social story, and a template to create your own social story can be found on the Dimensions Autism Friendly Screenings webpage: https://www.dimensions-uk.org/families/autism-friendly-screenings/

CEA card

The CEA card is an initiative set up by the UK Cinema Association (formerly the Cinema Exhibitor’s Association) in order to make it easier for disabled people to attend the cinema. Cinemas that are members of the CEA card scheme provide a complimentary ticket for the carer of anybody aged 8 years or older. Many of the major and independent cinemas in Wales are members of the CEA card scheme (to search for participating cinemas, visit the CEA website: https://www.ceacard.co.uk/participatingcinemas.aspx).

HYNT card

HYNT is a similar scheme to the CEA card, but instead of being specific to cinemas, it is designed for theatres and arts centres. HYNT also work in collaboration with venues and audiences to increase accessibility to theatres and arts venues around Wales, and facilitate a network to share best practice.

Because there are many multi-use venues in Wales, many of them have signed up to the HYNT scheme as well as the CEA card scheme. However, it should be noted that the criteria for eligibility differs between the two schemes. More information on the HYNT scheme can be found on the HYNT website: http://www.hynt.co.uk/

Disabled children have important rights under the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognises that children with disabilities should have full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children (UNCRPD, 2006 Article 7). Despite the efforts of many independent cinema venues, both large and small, and schemes such as Hynt, CEA and the Autism Friendly screenings schemes to appeal to more diverse audiences, research suggests that parents of disabled children are often either unwilling or unable to visit the cinema with them (Ryan, 2005; Dowling & Dolan, 2001). This research is an attempt to highlight some of the reasons why this might be, and to make a series of recommendations of ways in which venues might be able to better accommodate disabled children and their families. 

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