Long time followers of my blog, tweets or campaigning actions will remember all the way in November 2011 when I recorded this piece with BBC Newsround about Audio Description availability for visually impaired people. In this report I spoke to a very nervous looking representative of my local 'Spinnyworld' cinema. So lets call the cinema's involved Spinnyworld and Odeom...
Last year in October my Mum and I wanted to go to the cinema together, but of course this opens a can of worms of the accessibility variety. At first Mum checked my local Odeom cinema's website, where it labelled no films as being AD. My Mum, being a campaigner for VI access by blood, emailed Odeom Guest Services asking if this indicated all films or no films were audio described. We got this reply:
"Thank you for your email.
Unfortunately, currently have no films showing with Audio description. We list any subtitled films or audio described we are showing on our website. The films appearing as either Subtitled or Audio Described have an accessibility button appearing by them. If you click on the accessibility button it will show the performances available in the particular format.Also, if you are on the cinema home page, there is a filter at the top whereby you click on the necessary format you require.
Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to email us again or call ###
In the footnotes of the email it detailed that if we were to call for more help, it would cost us 10p per minute! This badly worded instructional email of 'How to use a website' we felt was patronising and it did not answer our query at all. We then asked for this to be taken as a formal complaint in respect of their scheduling and accessibility.
Next we tried Spinnyworld, where my Mum asked the same question at the cinema branch itself. We got an amazing response of "Oh yes, all our screens are digital now, every film with an AD soundtrack will have it played every showing." How amazing! All the complaints, mentions and even bringing Newsround in, had payed off! But we didn't want to see any films right then, so we left it a few weeks. We checked the branch website when I wanted to see one of the latest films with friends, and NO AD SHOWINGS. How could this be? We emailed to find out...
"Thank you for contacting 'Spinnyworld' I'm sorry it has taken longer than normal for me to respond to you, we have received a considerable volume of customer correspondence recently. Although not every film at 'Spinnyworld' **** is Audio Described it is very simple to use our website to find which films offer this service..."
What followed was a string of instructions on how to use their very basic website. No wonder they received lots of correspondences, whilst their answers were so inadequate. Though, to give Spinnyworld credit, the email did actually make sense.
Mum responded saying:
"Thank you for your response. I understand that thank you. I am fully sighted myself and find your website helpful and easy to use. What I don't understand is why staff got us all excited and happy at the prospect of more choice for VI people and a more typical cinema experience and range of viewing ahead when clearly what they said is not true? Thank you."
And then silence fell in cyberspace and we received no response. We began to wonder if our emails had actually been received by people, or by cyborgs employed by cinema companies to reply to all queries in the most patronising and annoying way possible. That is, until yesterday, when our quest for accessibility (after three months) came to a close.
My Mum had to look quite hard for my local branches number, as we were not going to miss 'Quartet' like we had so many other films due to lack of AD. She got hold of the number and got through to a real human. At first the same old spiel was recited: "Well if you check the website it shows that, no: there are no audio described performances..." My Mum queried the claim that everything was now digitised and that, if there is an AD soundtrack in the production, why shouldn't it be played? The manager was called and all became clear!
We were in fact initially told the truth, all the branch's screens are now capable of AD, and if there is a soundtrack available with AD then I can just pick up the headphones and enjoy the film. I believe this is a success!
But it does prompt the question- if you have it, why not show it? And if you don't, why not? Why make customers enquire for three months? We heard no more from Odeom, but in my eyes Spinnyworld has turned it around. In this case it seems that the website is wrong, but I really hope they correct it soon before anyone else misses opportunities due to bad information communication.