Communiqué from the Accessible Cinema Advisory Group (ACAG)

15 December 2010

What is the Cinema Access Implementation Plan?

What has happened?

For the past decade, community groups representing the interests of people with disability have strongly advocated for improved accessible cinema experiences. These efforts have been tireless and ongoing and recently, a very positive step was taken when the Accessible Cinema Advisory Group (ACAG) was set up as part of the 17 July 2010 launch of a new Cinema Access Implementation Plan (the Plan).

The Plan has been put forward by Australia's four major cinema groups (Hoyts, Village, Event / Greater Union / Birch Carroll & Coyle, and Reading) with funding support from the Australian Government.

The Plan aims to 'fast track' new audio description and captioning technology, as part of a bold new approach to improve cinema access for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment or people who are blind or have low vision.

Under the Plan the Australian Government will contribute over four years some $470,000 toward the estimated $2.2 million cost of buying the necessary equipment with the balance of these costs to be met by the cinema chains themselves.

The roll out of the timetable for cinema access improvements under this Plan was intended to match the timing of the work of the cinema chains to convert all of their cinema complexes to new digital cinema technology.

Under the agreement reached with the cinema chains, captions and audio description will be available in at least 242 screens by 2014 which will mean that at least one screen in every cinema complex owned by the four cinema chains will be accessible.

The cinema chains also agreed that all new cinemas constructed by the group between now and 2014 will contain this accessible technology.

Initial delays in the roll out schedule for 2010

Australia is looking to be the first country in the world where its major entertainment cinemas will have all venues accessible. Trying to achieve this involves some risk as there are always difficulties in making sure new technologies work well and fit in with world-wide practice. Unfortunately, there have been delays in the roll out schedule which has been beyond the control of the cinema chains.

Under the first phase of the roll out due by December 2010, some 24 additional accessible screens were to become available and they were to support both closed captioning (using the CaptiView system) and audio description.

A major feature of the Plan involves the use of the newest digital cinema equipment and use of the latest digital cinema technology. This means that the Plan relies heavily on the progress made internationally in the areas of:

  • availability of cinema technology;
  • importation and installation of new digital equipment;
  • availability of movies that utilise the new accessible technology; and
  • finalisation of internationally agreed standards associated with production of audio description for movies using this new technology.

Unfortunately these many and complex issues extend well beyond the borders of this country, and have caused delay in the rate of roll out that we had anticipated would be achieved by December 2010 under the Plan.

What is going to happen? Some positive news from 30 December 2010

From 30 December, 2010 there will be three new accessible cinema screens able to begin offering sessions using the latest in digital screen technology. These new locations will be offering closed captioning using the CaptiView system.

Accessible closed captioned movies will begin screening at the following locations:

  • Event Cinemas, Robina, QLD
  • Hoyts Cinemas, Broadway, Sydney, NSW
  • Reading Cinemas, Charlestown, Newcastle, NSW

There will be one screening room in each cinema complex delivering closed captioning for all movies presented on that screen. This will mean multiple sessions every day that the cinema is open.

Due to the international delays in standardisation of technology as mentioned earlier, audio description will not be available in these cinemas until some time in 2011.

In addition to "front-of-house" services, on-line web booking services are being developed by some of the cinema chains to help with pre-booking the Captiview system captioning equipment prior to arrival at the cinema. Patrons should check on their local cinema chain website to confirm whether this service is available. Information can also be obtained from: Your Local Cinema website.

To ensure smooth commencement of session advertising, website development is underway. This website development is at differing stages for each cinema chain and each cinema chain is working toward improving its on-line bookings.

The cinema chains remain committed to addressing these early delays as soon as possible in 2011. Further, the cinema chains are optimistic that the overall targets under this Plan should still be achieved in the next phases of this Plan regardless of these early set-backs.

Over the past couple of months cinemas have also been preparing staff for the roll out of new accessible cinema technology as well as promoting disability awareness training. This training was facilitated by 'Accessible Arts NSW' and conducted over 3 days. The four major cinema chains flew its Regional Managers, Operations Managers, Location Managers and Head Office staff to Sydney and Melbourne. Training comprised of a four hour session on Disability Awareness followed by a thorough technical demonstration of how to use the new equipment. Some 121 team leaders were trained; they will now deliver this training to all of their front line staff Australia wide. Efforts will be made to ensure ongoing staff ability to assist cinema patrons with disability.

Interim Plan – enhancing existing accessible cinema locations with more sessions and more audio description services from 6 January 2011

Recognising the good will and need to promote accessible cinema, the cinema chains have proposed the following short term actions to help demonstrate their commitment to accessible cinema:

There are currently twelve cinemas operated by the cinema chains that offer open captioning, and one additional cinema in Tweed Heads, NSW, that offers both open captioning and audio description.

From 6 January, 2011 four of the twelve open captioning locations will also start offering audio description services. These four are in addition to that of Tweed Heads.

The additional locations are:

  • Event Cinemas, Parramatta, Sydney, NSW
  • Hoyts Cinemas, Belconnen, Canberra, ACT
  • Hoyts Cinemas, Erina, NSW
  • Hoyts Cinemas, Carousel, Perth, WA

Installation and conversion of these four locations is currently underway, however the process of ordering and installing new equipment associated with these expanded audio description services means that the earliest this equipment can be brought into operation is 6 January 2011.

Numbers of head sets available at these five locations will be advised on local cinema websites. Information can also be obtained from the Your Local Cinema website.

From 6 January, 2011 all 13 of these locations will also offer additional accessible screening sessions - doubling the weekly presentations of movies at these complexes from 3 sessions per week to 6 sessions per week. These improvements will effectively increase available sessions by 100 percent.

Details on proposed sessions and times are to be found at the end of this Communiqué. The exact details of days and times may be subject to change and confirmation will be advertised on the websites of your local cinema chain website. Information can also be obtained from the Your Local Cinema website.

The doubling of the number of accessible sessions involves an expansion of capacity at each of these 13 locations. The cinema chains advise that in order to ensure a smooth commencement of these added sessions and the incorporation of website development, the earliest they can commence these services is 6 January 2011.

As noted earlier, each cinema chain is working toward improving its on-line bookings. Patrons should check their local cinema chain websites to confirm session times from January 2011. Information can also be obtained from the Your Local Cinema website.

These are only short term measures and are not a replacement to the roll out of the Plan.

Next Steps, Your feedback

We value your feedback, it is essential for the ACAG to be aware of your cinema experiences. We are particularly looking for your impressions for those of you able to access one of the three new accessible cinemas.

We welcome all comments and views and ask that you provide this feedback through a dedicated email address we have set up:

We anticipate that we will be issuing our next Communiqué' in January 2011 to provide further updates.

If you have specific issues you wish to raise with particular members of the ACAG, please make use of their respective email or web addresses provided against this listing of all ACAG member organisations:

The ACAG regrets these delays and wishes to assure you that we will be providing regular updates as news becomes available on progress made under the Plan.

Accessible Cinema Advisory Group

Wednesday 15 December 2010

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