Dimensions partners with film industry to urge all UK cinemas to become autism friendly

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Dimensions, the national autism and learning disability support provider which pioneered autism friendly initiatives in cinemas nationwide, has ramped up their partnership with the UK Cinema Association and BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), supported by National Lottery funding, to develop free autism friendly training resources for all cinemas and cinema staff across the country.

The training, launched at the start of World Autism Awareness Month, was developed by people with autism and industry experts. In becoming ‘autism friendly’, cinema staff are trained on how to make small adjustments to the environment that create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for people with autism.

Autism friendly screenings are intended to open up cinemas and cinema-going to people with autism, and may help people with autism transition into attending traditional screenings.

The launch coincides with research from Dimensions highlighting the pivotal role of autism friendly screenings in helping people with autism feel valued and included in society.

Elements of a traditional cinema screening can discourage visits from people with autism, 80% of whom have felt excluded from their local community. Their top concerns include too much noise, having to sit through adverts and trailers, and worrying about being judged by others.

The training tackles this with guidance on how to make small adjustments, such as altering the volume and lighting levels. As a result, people who go to autism friendly screenings feel more valued and understood (33%) and more connected to their community (27%).

Crucially, breaking down barriers to inclusion and communication, four in ten people with autism (41%) say that autism friendly screenings give them a reason to leave the house.

Since Dimensions first launched its autism friendly cinemas initiative eight years ago, there have been over 400,000 visits to over 350 autism friendly cinema sites (out of over 1,000 cinema sites in the UK*).

Yet with a quarter of people with autism (24%) having never attended an autism friendly screening, there is an urgent need for more cinemas to participate to ensure this opportunity is available across the country.

Sarah Clarke, Campaign Manager at Dimensions, said:

“Most people don’t have to think twice about going to the cinema, but if you have autism it can be a stressful experience. With 80% having felt excluded from society, we know how important autism friendly environments are in tackling this issue.

“We’ve been campaigning for years for more autism friendly environments and we’ve seen first-hand how successful these initiatives can be. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We found that over 90% of people with autism would go to the cinema more if there were more autism friendly opportunities. With our new training, we’re calling on every cinema in the UK to become autism friendly, to ensure current and potential guests feel welcome and valued, and – in turn – help make society more inclusive.”

Lauren, 18, has autism and helped produce the training. She said:

“Film is a real passion of mine and I am proud to have helped develop this training with Dimensions. Autism friendly cinema screenings help people feel more relaxed and confident, so you can fully immerse yourself in the film without worrying about being judged.

“It also means so much to families and friends, who can relax and spend quality time together instead of feeling like they have to stay home. It’s so important that there are more autism friendly environments across the UK so everyone can benefit.”

Phil Clapp, Chief Executive of the UK Cinema Association, said:

“The positive response in recent years from audiences to autism friendly screenings has seen more and more UK cinemas look to offer these shows, with these becoming a regular feature of programming at many sites. At the same time, there is also increasing interest in offering a broader range of content, for example for older audiences.

“In partnership with Dimensions and the BFI Film Audience Network, the UK Cinema Association has over the last six months worked to create a written training guide and video for cinemas and their staff, all with the aim of helping to deliver even more high-quality autism friendly screenings for local communities and audiences.”

Toki Allison, BFI Film Audience Network Access Officer at Film Hub Wales, said:

“This has been a really important collaboration for us, as we are working to ensure that cinema is accessible to everyone. There is a space for many different types of cinema and its transformative power should be available to influence anyone who has an interest in seeing films, whatever their needs or behaviours. Many FAN members have been screening autism friendly screenings regularly for their communities and we’re keen to ensure this trend continues and grows.”

The initiative is part of a wider Dimensions campaign to create more autism friendly environments around the UK. Dimensions has also launched a range of free training resources for libraries, museums and Belong by GAME stores to encourage a widespread perception change and ensure more public spaces across the UK are autism friendly.

For more information and booking details, visit the Dimensions website.

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