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Iconic open air cinema is now more accessible for everyone

09:30am January 25 2024

The Westpac OpenAir Cinema at Mrs Macquarie's Point in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens. (Getty)

The Westpac OpenAir Cinema has been a fixture of the Sydney summer for more than quarter of a century and this year’s event is more accessible than ever. 

There has been a step change in the amenities available to people with disability, including more accessible seating, tactile and braille signage, and Companion Cards which allow people with disability to bring along a companion at no extra charge. Assistance and guide dogs are also welcome. 

“We wanted to make sure that the needs of as many individuals as possible were considered as part of the end-to-end cinema experience,” says Majella Knobel, Westpac’s Head of Access and Inclusion. “The OpenAir Cinema is in such an iconic location on Sydney harbour, we want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the special atmosphere.” 

Several of the movies featured this season will have subtitles, while the cinema will also host the premiere of the Mastercard-backed film “TOUCH” - Australia’s first feature-length film made with and for people who are blind or vision impaired. 

“TOUCH” is a movie without pictures which tells the story of a young man, Ben, and his friends who get trapped in the consciousness of Ben’s father, Frank, after an experiment goes wrong. To escape, they must journey through Frank’s memory, learning more about a man they thought they knew. 

A survey commissioned by Mastercard showed that around half of Australians who are blind or vision impaired feel that most films are not adapted to be inclusive for them. More than three quarters of respondents agreed that adaptable technology in content, such as audio descriptions, should be more widely used and available to enhance their experiences. 

More accessible ticketing and better trained staff at venues were also identified as ways to make people who are blind or vision impaired feel more included. 

Knobel says the cinema-going experience is still a mixed one for people with disability. Staff often lack training to help people, while accessibility can be variable. Many of the movies themselves do a poor job of catering for people who are blind or vision impaired, she adds.

Other facilities at the OpenAir cinema this year include Bindi Maps, which use audio descriptions to help people with disability better navigate the venue. Food and drink outlets have also been made more accessible, with ordering available either over the counter or through an app via QR code. Staff will be stationed in each dining area to assist with ordering or take manual orders and payment.  

“We hope that this year’s OpenAir cinema sets a new standard for accessibility and inclusion that others in the industry will strive to follow,” Knobel says.  

“TOUCH” will screen on Feb. 13 and Mastercard has partnered with Humanitix to ensure the ticketing process is inclusive for all people who are blind or vision impaired. All the ticket sale proceeds will go to the charity Blind Citizens Australia. 

The Westpac OpenAir Cinema runs until Feb. 20.

James Thornhill was appointed as editor of Westpac Wire in May 2022. Prior to joining the bank, he was a business and financial journalist with more than two decades of experience with international newswires. Most recently, he was a resources correspondent for Bloomberg, covering the mining and energy sectors, and previously reported on a broad range of topics from economics and politics to currency and bond markets. Originally from the UK, he’s had stints working in London, New York and Singapore, but is now happily settled in Sydney.

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