In a partnership with Ohio State’s Nisonger Center — the university’s research center for developmental disabilities — Gateway Film Center provides once-a-month screenings of sensory-friendly films for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Scott Vezdos, the film center’s director of communications, said the films offer a sensory-friendly experience where the volume is lower, lights are up and is a “shush-free environment,” where audience members are free to make noise.
Vezdos said the film center wanted to provide a program for those with developmental disabilities where they can enjoy both classic and current movies.
“It’s really a way to be welcoming and inclusive, to have screenings for families that might see going to a typical screening as challenging for them,” Vezdos said.
He said the programming is often holiday-themed. For example, on Oct. 20, the film center will be showing “Monster House” for a Halloween-themed film screening. In December, it will be showing “Arthur Christmas.”
“We tend to lean more towards animated films just because they’re popular, they do really well, there are a lot of classical animated films that we can choose from,” Vezdos said.
The sensory-friendly films and the partnership between Ohio State and Gateway Film Center began with a phone call in 2014, according to Tamara Hager, fiscal officer and manager of outreach and engagement at the Nisonger Center. A film center employee who was familiar with the Nisonger Center sought to get more involved with different parts of the Columbus community.
Hager said that sensory-friendly films aren’t exactly a new concept. However, at the time the Nisonger Center was first contacted, there might not have been much availability of sensory-friendly programs.
Hager said there are other sensory-friendly experiences that have developed over the past five years, one example being the performances at the Columbus Children’s Theatre.
“The whole idea behind it is individuals with disabilities may not always have the same opportunities as their typical peers or even siblings, just because of the nature of their disability,” Hager said. “I think it was a way for us to be able to create a safe, comfortable space for them to enjoy a movie in a way that everyone else can.”
Hager said she hopes the sensory-friendly films will raise awareness and sensitivity to different parts of the community in order to provide equal opportunities.
“The people that you sit beside at lunch, the people that you work with. How can you be accommodating in your everyday life so that everyone can participate in the same way?” she said.
As for Vezdos, he said he would like to use the sensory-friendly films to create even more diverse and inclusive programming within the film center, such as the “age-friendly” screenings, like films for a senior audience, like it does now.
“For us, it’s being a home for all audiences and being that community hub that people feel totally welcome coming [to],” Vezdos said. “We’re a place for all, and that’s very important to us to be a loving and inclusive film center.”