Wisbech cinema boss says there is ‘a long way to go’ to raise awareness of ‘invisible disabilities’

PUBLISHED: 16:18 08 September 2020

Nathan Smith (left) believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Right, Nathan (far right) with the team as Luxe Cinema celebrated its 10th anniversary. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITH/LORENA HODGSON

Nathan Smith (left) believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Right, Nathan (far right) with the team as Luxe Cinema celebrated its 10th anniversary. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITH/LORENA HODGSON

Archant

A cinema manager who has been forced to eject people from autism-friendly screenings believes “there is a long way to go” to increase awareness of what he calls “invisible disabilities”.

Nathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITHNathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITH

Nathan Smith has been running sensory screenings at the Luxe Cinema in Wisbech for families over the last four years, which include turning on lights, reducing sound and allowing viewers to move around.

Most of these screenings have received positive responses, but there have been cases where some have questioned why certain screenings are being made available.

“We have only had a few situations that have required intervention, and in all cases, it has involved a misunderstanding of what the screenings are, why we hold them and what to expect,” Nathan said.

“Misunderstandings can happen, and explaining things usually works, but if a guest is unreasonable and rude, then we will always ask them to leave.”

Nathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITHNathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Picture: SUPPLIED/NATHAN SMITH

One of the worst situations the Luxe has faced was when a guest complained that children were making excited noises during a screening, before being told to leave after what Nathan thought were “nasty comments about disability in general”.

However, Nathan has received supportive messages, such as a card from one family complimenting the welcoming environment the cinema had created.

“I would rather ask one person - who has not listened to our guidance - to leave than risk even one guest who needs these screenings to feel that they don’t want to attend again,” he said.

“We will provide accessible screenings as often as we can because everyone deserves to have access to film - as easily and as comfortably as possible.

Nathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Nathan (far right) with the team as Luxe Cinema celebrated its 10th anniversary. Picture: LORENA HODGSONNathan Smith believes there is a long way to go to help increase awareness of hidden disabilities, such as autism, after a girl was subject to verbal abuse for not wearing a mask. Nathan (far right) with the team as Luxe Cinema celebrated its 10th anniversary. Picture: LORENA HODGSON

“It doesn’t benefit anyone to get angry about it, but it is disappointing that visible indicators for ‘invisible disabilities’ can be ignored.”

Last week, a girl living with autism was subject to verbal abuse from a customer because she was not wearing a face mask inside a Costa branch in Wisbech.

Nathan believes that although the rules surrounding face masks may be confusing to many, that does not stop people from showing respect.

“When I first heard of the incident, my first impression was one of sadness that these sorts of situations unfortunately still occur,” he said.

“There is no one-size-fits-all and awareness of things like the sunflower lanyard and perhaps just making the assumption that if someone is not wearing a face covering, it is most likely going to be for a good reason.

“It doesn’t take much to be kind, to ask a question politely rather than to be argumentative and confrontational.”

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