This post was written by current student Chantelle Bernardo.
On December 16th, my fiancé and I went on a movie date together. We hadn’t been out in a while, so we were both really looking forward to it. We went to the Cineplex on Rathburn in Mississauga. My fiancé is a quadriplegic and when we go to a movie, we typically sit in accessible dedicated spots. He sits in a space for his wheelchair and I sit in the accompaniment seat beside him. On that particular night, the cinema that our movie was in was not nearly full, as there were possibly 20 people inside. Therefore, there were many unattended seats. My fiancé and I usually sit beside one another in the cinema, but today there was not that option.
In this particular cinema there was a designated “wheelchair” area off to the side – which looked like it was caged off – and then “regular” patron seating across the aisle and away from the wheelchair area. I contacted the manager to see if a folding chair could be brought for me, so at least I could sit beside my fiancé on our date. I was told “no, that would be a fire hazard”. Not only was I told “no”, the manager and another worker kept referring to my fiancé as my “friend” – as though it’s not possible for an able bodied individual to be with someone in a wheelchair and be anything more than a friend.
The manager asked if I wanted a refund, I said yes, but that I wanted to escalate my complaint. I asked him to call someone higher up then him. He said no, but he would give me a number to call customer service. I called customer service and spoke to a young woman. I explained the situation and she told me that there is nothing more that can be done at that time. She took down my name, my cell phone number and my email address and told me someone would be in touch within 48 hours. I never heard from anyone.
When I got home that evening, I contacted several news stations and media outlets. I emailed the mayor and a few other influential people to see if they would help. I got a call the following day from City News and they wanted to do an interview to air the story. At 4:00 pm on December 17th, hours before the interview would be aired, I got an email from my contact at City News saying that the contact from Cineplex requested that I phone her to discuss the situation.
I called and spoke with the Vice President, Communications and Investor Relations, and I told her that I was disappointed that it was I that called her – that no one else from Cineplex had contacted me after I had complained. She apologized and said that no one ever told her about it, or had passed along my contact information. She explained the history behind the building and why certain spaces were more accessible than others; she explained that they were a leader in access and accessibility. I explained that as a business it was their responsibility to make sure changes were made to their infrastructure to ensure that it was accessible to all. She asked if I wanted free movies for a year, a private screening and various other things. I said no. I told her all that I wanted was a letter signed by her explaining her commitment and promise to making these changes as soon as possible. She agreed, thanked me for my professionalism and told me she would be sending the letter the next day. That was 12 days ago, and I have not received anything or heard anything from them since. I have called and left messages, and emailed several times, again with no response.
There are major accessibility issues within Cineplex facilities and there are many people from the disabilities population in my community who have reached out to me about other concerns – other barriers that they encounter that prevent them from enjoying the movie experience like anyone else.
I plan on insisting I sit in on an accessibility committee meeting. I have also insisted that they send me a detailed outline of the plans they have to solve these accessibility concerns. I want an outline of when it is to be completed, what is to be done, and by whom. I have also filed a human rights complaint with the Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario. It has been received and they are currently in the process of reviewing the case. I intend on sticking to this – and ensuring that Cineplex takes a good look at their accessibility policies and address the areas of concern.
I will not back down, and I will not stop speaking out. There is an entire community of people who are experiencing accessibility barriers at these facilities, and if Cineplex and their employees do not feel that this is important enough to act on, then Cineplex will continue to be scrutinized for their discriminatory principals.
To read more about Chantelle and Shawn’s story read the following news articles.