How AMC Stole Christmas

This is a posting from Sharon. Our listeners may know already that Sharon is totally blind. This is about an experience that happened to us today, Christmas morning, 2015.

I’ve been in tears over this several times today. My husband and I are fans of science fiction and fantasy, and for years, we’ve shared this hobby together. I was a kid when Star Wars came out for the first time, and I’ve always loved the movies.

For a Christmas surprise, he got us tickets to see the new Star Wars movie at a time when they offered audio description. There were only two such shows during the day, and the morning showing on Christmas day seemed to be the best chance that we could avoid overcrowded theaters and make sure we got the right headset for audio description.

The introduction of audio description in movie theaters was such a wonderful advancement, and made me so happy when our local theaters added it to their list of services. I have had terrible anxiety about going to movie theaters ever since I went to see the LAST Star Wars movie: Revenge of the Sith. My daughter was quietly describing the action on the screen, and the woman next to her kept tapping her and shushing her. Then my husband, sitting on my other side, took over describing, and the woman glared at us, even though it was impossible for her to hear him describing. After the movie, she yelled at us, and at me in particular, and called me a bitch for ruining her movie experience, even after we explained that I was totally blind. She said that if I needed someone to talk to me during the movie, I should just stay home. That experience has stayed with me for a decade and colored my expectations of going out to the movies.

When we got to AMC, we went straight to a manager, who flagged down a girl working there to give us the headset. We specifically asked if it was audio description, as opposed to enhanced audio for the hearing impaired. She assured us it was, but that it wouldn’t start working until the movie started. So we got into the theater and waited.

I don’t think I need to describe the anticipation we felt, but when the long-awaited words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” came onto the screen, the headphones were silent. And with the opening crawl of words, there was no reading from the headphones. When my husband started to describe things on the screen, I heard sound in the headphones, but it was only amplified sounds of the events on the screen. No description. No narration.

We left the theater and angrily complained to management. Yes, we got our money back after it took 20 minutes to explain the situation and for them to realize what they’d done and get the right headset, and then they offered to let us back in with the right equipment. What good is that? We’ve missed the whole first part of the movie! There was no other showing with audio description for 7 more hours. We weren’t going to come back at 6pm when our daughter is coming over for dinner with our 2-month old grandson!

This was not the first time this has happened to us. The many many times we’ve tried to go out to a movie, there has not been one single instance where they gave us the right equipment the first time. And I can only think of two times where we caught their mistake in time to enjoy the movie. I have complained to management each and every time, in at least 3 different theaters in our community. Every time, they have promised to train their employees better in the future. And every time, we get the same ignorance of disability accommodations.

I wonder if anyone else with disabilities has experienced such difficulties at AMC theaters in particular, or movie theaters in general. What do you do and how do you explain to them what you need BEFORE it’s too late to enjoy the movie? This was such a nice surprise from my husband, and it turned into such a heartbreak on Christmas. We’re going to try again in a couple days, but how does everyone else get past this barrier?

Sharon Dudley, NBCT


How AMC Stole Christmas — 3 Comments

  1. Followup this morning. AMC called us, insisted we asked for the wrong thing, as if a blind person doesn’t know what equipment to ask for. When we said it was a training issue, she got offended, said we were insulting her, and threatened to terminate the call. Sharon was polite through the entire thing trying to deflect blame from the person she was talking to up to the obviously insufficient training process, but the caller would not accept that AMC had erred in any way. So, if they didn’t steal Christmas, they did give away our business.

  2. I’m both sad and angry on your behalf. One of the challenges is, of course, that “management” at many movie theaters consists of teenagers and early-20’ish first-job people. My suggestion: take an action called an EECB, an executive email carpet bomb, against AMC corporate. I did this only once (an insurance company who snafu’d claim response) and found it successful. You can find information here:

    • Thank you, Penny. We were talking about it together and considered the high turnover rate for low-paying jobs. We did call the regional customer service line, so we’ll see if this gets any attention up the chain. We will definitely give this technique a try.

      And thank you to everyone else who has supported us. We have heard from many other blind people, and this happens a lot. The theater chains have to put a priority on opening their doors to all customers. These barriers have been solved technologically, but lack of awareness is keeping that solution from working.