MadagascarIt was heartening to see the recent expansion of the Autism Friendly Films initiative, with a second cinema chain joining the scheme. Here, Dan Parton explains how a relatively simple – and cheap – solution can really make a difference to the lives of people with autism and/or learning disabilities and provide a model for others to follow:

The Autism Friendly Films initiative has gone from strength to strength since it launched in 2011. A partnership between support provider Dimensions and cinema chain ODEON, it addresses the problems that people with autism, or other sensory differences, have with the traditional cinema-going experience. By making simple changes, such as leaving the lights on low and not showing trailers, it alleviates most of their problems.

Now, with the addition of Cineworld, more than 100 cinemas across the UK are showing Autism Friendly Films.

The initiative has been a great success; in the first year more than 21,000 people watched the monthly film screenings, and that number is now set to grow significantly.

As Lisa Hopkins, executive director of practice development at Dimensions, said: “These opportunities are important stepping stones towards full inclusion in mainstream cinemas.

“The cinema experience can be a particularly challenging environment but it is one that can be made accessible by good partnership working.”

Indeed, Autism Friendly Films show what effective partnerships between the not-for-profit and private sector can achieve.

It is a win-win. People with autism, get to join in mainstream activities with their family that ordinarily, they couldn’t. Meanwhile, the cinema gets extra revenue and positive publicity. Hopefully, more cinema chains will follow ODEON’s and Cineworld’s lead and join in with the initiative.

This also provides a model that can be applied in other areas. For example, organisations could team up to provide access to sports or other leisure activities that may be difficult to access for people with autism or learning disabilities.

I’m sure there are already partnerships up and running that do this (please let me know of any that you’re aware of – at the usual address – I’m always keen to hear about best practice) but my point is that I’m sure there should be more, and they should have a higher profile.

In this age of austerity, when many services are being cut back, partnerships like this could point a way forward for leisure opportunities that enable people with learning disabilities to live the life that they choose.