Yesterday we went to see a movie, ‘A Quiet Place’ at a theatre near the hotel we are staying in. The place was old and ill designed. The wheelchair space at the very back, at great distance from a small screen, had no chairs for anyone without their own. The one wheelchair space at the front, we discovered when looking for a way to sit together, was beside a seat that had been ripped apart. The long push back up to the isolation area was steep and hard, I made it almost to the top but needed help for the last couple of feet.

So I sat beside Joe and we decided to just cope. Just before the movie started a mother and three children came into take their seats at the end of the row in front of where Joe was sitting. There were, mom, daughter, son, daughter arranged in their seats. They were surprisingly noisy just settling during the start of a movie that uses silence as a tool for story telling. But they did come to complete silence about 5 minutes in.

But.

There was a lot of movement. The son kept getting up and going to the seat at the end of Joe’s row and directly behind his mother. Then, when things got scary, which came early and often, he’d scoot back to his seat between his sisters. Finally he settled for a long time at the end of Joe’s row. He had a cell phone out, looking intently at the screen completely still, the stillness interspersed with rocking.

I hate the bright light of a cell phone in a theatre. I thought about saying something because I always do, 100% of the time, but I didn’t. It seemed to me that he had some kind of cognitive difference and was using strategies to be able to stay in the theatre, watch the movie with his family, and enjoy all that comes with that. It was clear he was watching the movie because when the intensity built he’d be back in between his sisters. Every time.

To me the cell phone seemed to be like an assistive device for him to use, phone for him, wheelchair for me. Because of that, because of how it seemed to be used, I felt that I had no right to speak up. He had as much right to see the movie his way as I did mine.

Oddly, when talking to someone about this, I was told that I had lowered my expectation for him based on a perceived disability and that was doing him no favours. He needed, I was told, to learn how to be in public without disturbing others. A behaviour plan would probably help him enormously, they said.

I don’t know. I don’t think I lowered my expectations, I felt that I altered them. If he copes in a particular way, who am I to say that he can’t use that strategy. I fight for MY access to public space, what if his cognitive ramp is the cell phone and a bit of rocking? Isn’t accessibility defined differently by different people?

I don’t know. But I do know there is strong opinion around this. I’d like to hear what you have to say about this, but please say it kindly … go ahead, over to you.

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