Types of Screenings

Did you know there are a number of different types of screenings in UK cinemas, that are adapted for disabled people to ensure they can enjoy the big screen experience?

This section gives information on the different types of screenings listed on this website.
Whilst many cinemas can provide accessible screenings, there may be reasons why some cannot do so, or at least cannot do so immediately on a film’s release.

An increasing number of films – and the vast majority of major releases - are supplied to cinemas with ‘access tracks’, specifically subtitles (on-screen captions) and audio description.

But that is not true of all films, and even where these are available, they may not be supplied until a week or two after the initial release of the film.

So while it may seem that cinemas should be able to simply ‘switch on’ the subtitles or audio description for any film on demand, that is unfortunately not the case. The cinema will need to have the relevant version of the film (with access tracks) and to have had time to check to ensure that the access tracks are working properly.

It is always best to check first to see what is available at your local cinema. Click here for more information about your local cinema.

Audio Described (AD)

Audio described icon

What are they?

Audio described screenings provide a pre-recorded voice commentary that describes features such as action, body language, expressions and movements during the film. Because it fits within the silent gaps in a film, it doesn't interfere with the dialogue.

It is a separate soundtrack which is broadcasted through wireless headphones which only the wearer can hear. The headphones can be borrowed from the cinema ticket office.

Who can benefit from them?

For those who are visually impaired and have some form of sight loss.

Possible labels on cinema websites:

AD, Audio Description, Audio Described.

Visually presented as:

Audio Described Icon

Did you know?

Last year, 135 out of 202 English language films released in the UK were available with Audio Description, while nine out of the top 10 films each week had AD.

Autism Friendly (AF)

Autism Friendly icon

What are they?

Autism friendly screenings are subtly-adapted screenings which create an environment that is welcoming for people with a range of conditions such as autism, learning disabilities and cognitive disorders. They have sound levels turned down, the lights left on at a low level and there are no trailers at the beginning of the film. Film-goers are free to bring their own food and drinks to the cinema, are able to make noise and to sit where they feel most comfortable.

For more information visit http://www.dimensions-uk.org/support-services/autism-care/autism-friendly-screenings/

Who can benefit from them?

Although these screenings are usually referred to as Autism friendly screenings (AFS), some cinemas use the term ‘relaxed’. They were originally developed to help people with conditions such as autism and Asperger's syndrome visit the cinema. However, experience has shown such screenings can benefit other people with a broad range of cognitive conditions. Rather than trying to list those types of conditions, it is suggested people look at what these screenings do differently to see if they might be of benefit.

Possible labels on cinema websites:

AFS, AF, Autism friendly, Relaxed screenings, Sensory screenings

Visually presented as:

Autism Friendly iconAutism Friendly icon

Did you know?

Autism friendly screenings are available in over 600 different cinemas sites around the UK.

Dementia Friendly (DF)

Dementia Friendly icon

Dementia friendly screenings are a relatively new but growing area of activity for UK cinema operators. Similar to autism friendly, these specially adapting screenings provide a welcoming and friendly environment for those with dementia.

What are they?

Dementia friendly screenings are a relatively new but growing area of activity for UK cinema operators. Similar to autism friendly, these specially adapted screenings provide a welcoming and friendly environment for those with dementia.

Cinemas make adaptations to the cinema environment to make it easier for customers with dementia to navigate their way around the building, such as signage, more staff on hand to help. Screenings are relaxed, no trailers, sometimes have intervals, reduced occupancy and often have a socialising element at the end of screenings such as teas and coffees (and a chat).

Who can benefit from them?

People with Alzheimer’s or other dementia related conditions.

Possible labels on cinema websites

Dementia Friendly Cinema, Dementia Friendly Screenings, Memory Cinema

Visually presented as:

Did you know?

There is no cure for dementia. In 2015 it was estimated that there were 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. By 2051 it is estimated this will rise significantly to over 2 million.

Subtitled/Open Captioned (ST/OC)

Subtitled icon

What are they?

Subtitled screenings for those with hearing loss - often now referred to as open captioned screenings - provide a transcription of the audio from a film, displayed at the bottom of the cinema screen.

Along with the dialogue from the film, the subtitles include non-dialogue audio such as "(sighs)" or "(door creaks)" which are sometimes referred to as descriptive subtitles/captions.

However, it's also worth noting that the term subtitled screenings will also refer to foreign language film screenings which may only include captions for the dialogue spoken on screen.

Other hearing support

Additionally, there are a range of hearing support alternatives which customers with a hearing impairment might use in order to enhance their experience. Which will be most appropriate will depend on their level of hearing, whether they use a hearing aid and what equipment is available in any venue, as this is likely to vary.

Induction loop: This is used by hearing aid wearers and encompasses the seats in the cinema screen. It is designed to remove background noise which might otherwise be picked up by the hearing aid. The hearing aid is switched to the ‘T’ setting or loop programme and receives the soundtrack via the loop. No other equipment is needed. Such loops are often placed elsewhere in the venue to aid interaction between staff and hearing-impaired customers such as at ticket and refreshment sales points.

Infrared system: This system ‘bathes’ the cinema audience in infrared light, which transmits the dialogue to special equipment worn by someone with a hearing impairment. There are four main types of listening devices available for use with the infrared system:

1. Infrared neck loops, which the hearing aid wearer puts around their neck and switches their hearing aid to the ‘T’ setting or loop programme. The neck loop looks like a necklace; it has an infrared receiver which needs to be facing the screen.
2. Infrared headsets may be used by those who are hard of hearing but don't use a hearing aid. They have an infrared receiver around the neck that needs to be facing the screen. The headset looks like an upside-down pair of headphones and usually has in-ear headphones.
3. Infrared receivers which can be used by people with or without hearing aids and this depends on what equipment they plug into the socket. The receiver has a headphone socket into which either headphones, a neck loop or ear hooks can be plugged. These work in a similar way to the infrared headsets and neck loops described above.
4. Infrared headphones which can be used by people without hearing aids. Hearing aid wearers may be able to wear the headphones; however some hearing aids may experience interference causing a whistling sound. They are worn over the ears, and/or over the hearing aid; they have an infrared receiver.

Not all cinemas will have this technology - but if they do - the equipment for these systems can generally be borrowed from the cinema's ticket office.

Who can benefit from them?

These screenings support people who are deaf or hard of hearing. But also can be useful for foreign language screenings and speakers and can even support people's reading skills.

Possible labels on cinema websites:

ST, Subtitled, Captioned Screenings, Open Captioned, OC

Visually presented as:

Subtitled iconHearing Loop iconCaptions iconOpen Captions icon

Did you know?

Every week there are now more than 1,500 Subtitled screenings in UK cinemas.