July 10, 2019 6:27 pm
Updated: July 10, 2019 7:54 pm

Calgary teen in wheelchair upset over obstacles at the movie theatre

WATCH: A Calgary family is raising concerns after a frustrating night out at the movies. As Jill Croteau reports, it was a disappointing experience that has the theatre apologizing.


It was supposed to be an escape: friends getting together to watch the latest fantasy flick, Avengers: Endgame, on the big screen — but that’s not what happened due to what they call a lack of accessibility.

Sarah Pendlebury, 14, navigates every day in a wheelchair.

She and others went to the Chinook Centre Cineplex theatre on June 29. Family friend Kimmy Dueck took the group, but no one ended up inside the theatre because of a series of barriers they said they were faced with.

“I was just like, ‘What the hell?’ Obviously, there’s something wrong with this,” Sarah said.

The elevator to get to the theatre lobby was broken and alternative access wasn’t clearly outlined.

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“They have signs on the elevator indicating you can take the escalator to the right or stairs to the left,” Dueck recalled. “They do reference a ramp but we were wandering around the parkade trying to reach the west side of the building through the mall.”

Once inside, Dueck informed staff.

“When I pointed [out] how vague their signage is, he shrugged his shoulders like, ‘It worked for everyone else. Why hasn’t it worked for you?'” Dueck said.

They then discovered the handful of seats reserved in the 250-seat auditorium for guests in wheelchairs had already been sold.

“It’s not fair in any way,” Sarah said.

“They’re basically saying, ‘Alright, you want to see this movie — there can be only one disabled person in there,’ and how is that fair?”

They said they were met with indifference by staff and no effort to accommodate or explore alternatives.

“I was shocked how difficult it was to take the kids to a movie. A big part of me went into mama bear mode and I had a right to be upset with how they were handling the situation,” Dueck said.

READ MORE: Calgary girls with disabilities gaining confidence through powerful program

Sarah’s mom, Crystal Pendlebury, wasn’t with the group but said they encounter issues all the time.

“It seems people with accessibility issues and disabilities are treated like third-class citizens,” Crystal said.

Sarah said she felt responsible for her friends missing out on the movie.

“It’s horrible as a parent to watch your child internalize that and make it like it’s a blame on them when it’s absolutely not,” Crystal said.

“It’s heartbreaking.”

Cineplex has apologized and a spokesperson said they are disappointed to hear about this experience and are carefully looking into the situation and are actively working with them to make things right.

Sarah Van Lange, executive director of communications at Cineplex, said this was “an unfortunate situation.”

“This has created opportunities for learning and improvement and we are taking steps to do that,” Van Lange said in a statement. “At Cineplex, our goal is to make our theatres accessible to all guests, regardless of their ability.”

Accessibility advocates like Darby Lee Young said public spaces are far behind in their efforts to be inclusive to people of all abilities.

Young is an accessibility strategist for Level Playing Field.

“It comes down to architects and designers not thinking forward about what staff and clients need and when they work on buildings and not just an ‘Oops we forgot, sorry.’ It should be, ‘How can we rectify this?'” Young said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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