While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.
Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.
Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.
A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.
Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:
- Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
- Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
- Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
- Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
- Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
- Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
- Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters
Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.
To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.
On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.
Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.
While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.
For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”
Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.
Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.
Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”
The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.
For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.
“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.
Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”
J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.
According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”
Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.
If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.
The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.
May the Force Be with You!