Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Empire Strikes Back (at the disabled)

One of our favourite things to do as  family is go to the cinema. Logan loves the films (and the snacks) and Bella...well she just likes the popcorn.  She struggles with new films, she'll usually watch the first 5 or so minutes and then drifts off back into her iPad and headphones. I take her for a couple of reasons; new experiences are good even for the children for whom new is a bad word, it is nice to do things as a family and although Bella doesn't watch the films Logan loves her being there, I can't always have someone there on tap to watch Bella as we are a single parent household and finally why shouldn't she go? She has Autism not the plague.

Until now our local Empire cinema have been fantastic to the point where a member of staff offered to charge Bella's iPad when the battery went and she was clearly very distressed.  That day we left early, we have done on more than one occasion when Bella hasn't coped.

Until now the Empire have given us and dozens of other families I know discretionary free carers tickets. Last week this changed. According to the manger their system has changed and they are no longer able to issue a free carer ticket without a valid CEA number.

A CEA card (Cinema Exhibitors Association) can be purchased for £10 a year and is for children aged 8 and over.  As my children are both under 8 we've never been entitled to a card but have always got the discretionary ticket at the Empire, Odeon and Vue when I provided evidence of DLA.

Maybe I am wrong but I always imagined that children specifically who would normally go to the cinema/theme parks etc with parents get the free tickets due to them having a lesser experience in comparison to mainstream children. At the cinema Bella stays in her SN buggy so doesn't even take up a seat (I will come back to this point!)*

This Sunday it was very disappointing to find out that the carers tickets have been stopped with no apology and simply a "We are just doing what CEA say" attitude.

The CEA website is very clear: "Additionally, limitations placed on Cinemas by their local licenses require children and young people under 8 years of age to be accompanied by a responsible person; consequently applications for cards can only be considered for people who are 8 years of age or older."
But surely this is why it was discretionary?

It was a gesture. A gesture from a cinema who pride themselves on putting on regular Autism Friendly sessions for children mostly I suspect are under 8.

We are not parents simply trying to get a free ride, we are parents who can't send our children to the cinema with their friends, or with a birthday party due to their specific needs. Many of our children can't go to the park or to a soft play centre and are grateful for the safety it brings.  However with the safety comes a hefty price tag, this weekend I bought 2 children's tickets, 1 adult and snacks for all. It cost me the best part of £30.

According to Twitter, Odeon still offer a free carer ticket for under 8's with a valid DLA letter and Vue have said it's discretionary for each cinema...Empire have just said no.

This weekend myself and fellow SEN mum Sinead have been corresponding with the Empire on Twitter to see if it is in fact a national change or just a local one. The response we received was frankly outrageous.  It all started off so well.

In all honesty I am unsure as to what happened, we were unhappy, we spoke our minds but we were never rude, Empire on the other hand have struck back in the most aggressive way. I had asked for the Operations Director to email me before we were both promptly blocked but as of yet have not heard from such a person.

I am in the process of trying to speak to CEA themselves to try and resolve the issue but unfortunately until we are offered some kind of apology from (at the very least) the person in charge of social media I will be forced to boycott our local cinema which makes me very sad.

*A note to all cinemas PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can you put some visible sign on the wheelchair user spaces? They are not just extra leg-room seats. After all the ticket stress I was more that a tad frustrated to discover all wheelchair user spaces taken and was forced to "stick her in the aisle." I would think all FULL PAYING patrons deserve better.

I shall wait for the next installment...

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