How Unconscious Bias Led a Movie Theater to Kick out 100+ Disabled Children

 Mayo Beach Adaptive Camp likes to take their campers on field trips, just like most summer camps. This camp is for disabled children (from 6-21), their siblings, and friends. Camp Director Joe Mavo bought 140 tickets for his campers and staff (the ratio is 1 staff member to every three campers) to attend a summer movie at the Regal Waugh Chapel & IMAX in Maryland. He informed the theater that it was for special needs children.

The theater was happy to sell the tickets, but when the group showed up, they were turned away. At first, the line was that the theater was oversold and then a district manager said it was due to “liability.”

Let’s unpack all of this. The Capital Gazette talked with Joelle Ridgeway, Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the county who said the problem was with the group size and not the members of the group. 

To keep reading, click here: How Unconscious Bias Led a Movie Theater to Kick out 100+ Disabled Children

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14 thoughts on “How Unconscious Bias Led a Movie Theater to Kick out 100+ Disabled Children

  1. This makes me so angry! As someone who works in the I/DD field, there is no reason for this!

  2. Poor kids. Hopefully someone makes this right for them.

    The unconscious bias against working mothers is very real. My friend was told by her boss that she wasn’t eligible for overnight travel assignments because she has a child. She is from another country, and unfamiliar with U.S. laws, so she didn’t know that he isn’t allowed to do that. I’m sure the boss thought he was looking out for her best interests, but it held her back in her job development.

  3. Although they were wrong for turning this group away, your title and reporting are misleading. If 140 tickets are bought and there is a 1:3 staff to camper ratio, that means there are at least 46 staffers leaving under 100 children. Also, you said that the camp is meant for siblings and friends of the disabled children, so likely, not all the children are disabled. Your title 100+ disabled children is wrong. Responsible reporting and HEADLINES are important.

  4. Alamo Drafthouse, a restaurant cinema chain with a notorious no-talking / no-text policy (they will kick you out with no refund if you’re disturbing people), has designated sensory screenings at certain times for special needs folks. The lights are dimmed rather than shut off, and some talking and moving around is permitted.

    It may take a little extra effort to serve patrons in these screenings, but it’s worth it to ensure that everyone can share the experience.

  5. Just to add a different perspective: With lawyers lined up waiting to pounce, every business is concerned about liability. From a safety standpoint, the theaters big question might be how to evacuate everyone quickly and safely in case of an emergency. Not knowing what all the special needs are, the question would be “How do we evacuate these children when everyone else is running for the doors?” “Will this cause them to get injured or cause injury to someone else if they are unable to move quickly?”

    Not condoning the theaters action, but I think if some advance communication happened between the camp and the theater, plans could have been worked out so that everyone was accommodated.

  6. I am not understanding this…seems this article leaves out alot of pertinent information. Did the theatre try to make an accomodation for the group? Were they even able to reasonably accomadate them? I sincerely doubt the staff just wanted to be mean to this particular group. There must be more to the story. Give me a break

    1. The point of the article is that even when people think they are being kind or fair, their unconscious biases may lead to harmful outcomes. In this case, the staff was worried about ‘liability’, which means they were making assumptions about ‘disabled kids’ that might not be true. For example, above someone suggested that in case of emergency this group might have a harder time exiting the building quickly. But that is not necessarily true. With so many staff and parents, this group could very well be much more calm and orderly than a typical group of kids with fewer adults. Staff didn’t intend to be mean, but their decision, based on their own assumptions and not facts, was harmful to the kids.

      1. This was in no way an act of unconscious bias on part of this theatre’s management staff. You are buying to to what the EvilHRLady is trying to inflame. This was purely a decision based on the safety all guests in the building at the time and the fact there was not prior communication with the staff. Would you expect to show up a restaurant with 140 people and expect they would be able to accommodate you? No, so don’t make these managers and staff at the theatre out to be the bad guys for doing the best the could for all involved.

      2. I said “reasonable” accommodations. This is all that is required by law. The staff is allowed to make assumptions based on the information they have at that time. Employers have to be able to make a quick decision. They did just that with no malice.

  7. One of the commenters was right in stating that this example trying to show us about “unconscious” bias doesn’t really give us the full facts. I am surprised that EvilHRlady has tried to nitpick the facts to present a situation. I frequent a Regal movie theater near me and they have groups of disabled (all different ages) coming to the theater all the time. In fact, I have been in the same theater when some of these groups come in. All the theaters have special rows to accommodate special needs but not enough for 140 at the same time, especially if you are talking about needing special seating and other arrangements. But Regal does state in the previews ahead of every movie special that they will try to accommodate special needs if contacted through the management office. I guess one of the theaters seating has adjustable seating arrangements, especially the ones with all lounge seating. Again we don’t know all the details of this incident and the amount of timing needed between the purchase of the tickets and the theater accommodations at that specific movie house.
    What I did get from this situation, especially in our PC super sensitive world, is a complete lack of full communication on both sides for the seating of 140 plus children and staffing as to timing. I don’t know of any place that accommodate that size group without substantial pre-agreed time for the showing by both parties. I have a strong feeling this was a more spontaneous event than a planned event, given that was for a summer camp event.

  8. I used to run a small Children’s Art Museum in a small West Texas city. When I started, I had some requests for groups that had people with disabilities. I described our facilities and asked if the organizer could come by, look around, and do a dry run-through of our usual field trip. We were lucky that there were very few barriers. Reaching the art room sink from a wheel the biggest one. There were accessible sinks in the bathroom. For some groups, we would borrow chairs with backs from the main museum because our benches didn’t have backs. Considering the building was originally built in the mid 1920s, we were lucky.

    The biggest change we had to work out was with the MHMR Adult Group. During the school year they had started coming on our Free Day after spring break. When summer was approaching I had a meeting. It was decided that their staff would come in the first summer free day to evaluate the situation.

    They decided the fact the number of kids was 3X more and the noise level was so high it wasn’t good for their clients. I talked to my boss and offered to let them come in for free on Wednesday instead. The ONLY complaint we got was that the MHMR staff and clients were not there on Tuesday/Free Day and the kids missed them.

  9. You article is the one that is bias. Having worked in the movie theatre industry there are many things that if you haven’t worked in would have no idea what all is involved on a day to day basis. Your article is very bias as to what you think happened. Regal is not going to respond to you. The management and theatre staff can’t respond to you and you should know that. As with any large corporation employees can not speak on behalf of the company and the PR department will respond to the appropriate media outlets if they feel appropriate. You my dear are not that appropriate outlet.

    The article states that their were the appropriate number of counselors per camper. What you don’t realize as with any retail store, restaurant, movie theatre, etc that the management team is responsible for the safety of all the campers as well as all the other guests in the building when this occurred. It is totally irrelevant the number of staff that were present per camper. Regal is still responsible. If one of the guest is hurt, part of this group or any other guest, Regal would bear that responsibility. This would be the case with ANY guest in the building. Your article does not provide information if the staff was aware that the tickets were for this large group where their might be the need for special accommodations, when the tickets were bought and if the camp had ANY prior conversations with the management team of this theatre before they showed up? ANY large group of 140 that just showed up at this theatre would have had the same response from the management staff.

    As with many of the articles I have read written by you in the past you are trying to inflame your opinion on what happened without all the facts. You see things black and white and things are never black and white in today’s world.

    The management team in these theatres always have to weigh the risks regarding the staff and the guests in their building. ANY large group of 140 movies guests without prior knowledge of the staff would have received the same response. This was in way was a bias against this particular group.

    As with many of the articles that I have read by you, your comments are very judgmental and one sided. You seem to think things are very black and white and that is not how the world works. You have no idea the responsibility that these managers deal with everyday. You need to get off your judgmental high horse. It is very clear you have never worked in the service industry or worked in HR with a company that deals with these type scenarios everyday. Until you do you have absolutely no right to pass your holier than thou judgement on the staff at this theatre or Regal.

    Your trying make this staff out to be bias just because this group happened to be special needs. It had nothing to do with unconscious bias and was simply a risk management decision based on the size of the group. I also doubt that the group was “thrown out”. I am sure there multiple other options offered to the group but because they were not happy with them they decided to blast this story to everyone.

    Regal has a long history of accommodations for both guests and employees with disabilities. They have programs with their movies to accommodate guests with disabilities as well as hiring a large number of employees with disabilities. Get off your high horse and get your facts straight before you state your opinion of this one situation which you DID NOT personally witness first hand so you have no way of knowing.

    HR professionals with your morale superiority and judgement are the reason employees hate HR professionals. I would HATE to work for the company were you were part of the HR staff.

    1. Thanks for your response which explained my reaction better but I didn’t phrase it so decidedly. As with any large group, a pre-arrangement has to made in advance. This story reminded me of what happens when a bus loaded with people pulls in to a parking lot of a fast-food restaurant without pre-notice. Not everyone will be happy about the accommodations and service.

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