A recipient of the 2013 Corporate Award from the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, Cineplex Entertainment was recognized as a top employer for its culture of inclusion.
Not everyone likes reading books or watching TV, but when it comes to movies there seems to be an inexplicable and extraordinary universal appeal. As human beings, we have fears and failings, allies and antagonists, stress and struggles. We sometimes need a little help in dealing with all that. Movies help. We can retreat into the story, experiences of others. We escape, and it’s good for our soul.
Movies welcome all audiences and so it is good news that Canada's largest theater exhibitor, Cineplex Entertainment, is making movie-going accessible to more people than ever before. Cineplex is proud to stand on the forefront of accessibility in theatre exhibition. Cutting-edge technologies have opened up the movie experience to new audiences.
But there’s much more to it than that. There’s a corporate culture at play at Cineplex that includes not only movie-goers but the cast that hosts the experience in the billion-dollar company’s theatres every day.
“Corporate Canada doesn’t do enough. From an employment standpoint, discrimination happens quite subtly at the corporate level. There's no reason for that.”
“Hiring people with disabilities is not something that is an edict for us, it's something we live and are very passionate about,” says Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob. Cineplex believes that a diverse, equitable and supportive workplace is not only the right thing to do – it's also an important business advantage.
Among its more than 10,000 employees across the country, Cineplex counts many of different abilities. “It’s said to me that we are great corporate citizens,” continues Jacob. “But that's not it at all; employees with disabilities are great employees. It's a fantastic opportunity for us. Corporate Canada doesn’t do enough. From an employment standpoint, discrimination happens quite subtly at the corporate level. There's no reason for that.”
Cineplex is a noted corporate leader in hiring Canadians with disabilities. With no formal hiring mandates or designated sensitivity training, it all transpires quite naturally. Said Pat Marshall, Cineplex’s Vice President of Communications and Investor Relations: “We here at Cineplex have a culture of openness. We all have different abilities, every one of us. It's about being receptive, understanding and encouraging to all human beings. We’ve learned that we are all much more alike than we are different. It really is as simple as understanding one another's challenges.”
Fellow corporate bosses have asked Jacob how he does it. “First and foremost, it's important for us that our movie-going guests with a disability feel no differently than anyone else in our theatre. As for our employees with disabilities, it's important for them to understand that they've joined a family that values them as contributors. And you need to be passionate about leading by example without being regimented by rules. And I share this with them: in a lot of ways these young employees with disabilities are a lot more passionate – they’ll give you everything they have because they want to prove that they’re going to deliver.”
“Instead of someone standing and tearing tickets for example, they can sit down and tear tickets. It's not rocket science. It’s communication. You ask what they need and provide a culture in which they can verbalize what they need.”
Marshall inserted that some corporations fear that the productivity of a person with a disability will be less than the average individual. “That’s wrong,” she emphasized. And she believes that if more companies embraced diverse hiring practices they’d better understand the domino effect that people with disabilities can have on an organization. “Co-workers become more aware and that trickles down to their friends and family. And all of the thousands of people who come through our doors become more aware. It's a win-win situation.”
Creating a physical environment that is seamless for an employee with a disability need not be that difficult, encourages Jacob. “Instead of someone standing and tearing tickets for example, they can sit down and tear tickets. It's not rocket science. It’s communication. You ask what they need and provide a culture in which they can verbalize what they need.”
When it comes to their customers with mobility challenges, Cineplex’s Access 2 Entertainment program allows guests who require a companion to bring a caregiver into the presentation at no cost. Companion seats are positioned next to specific areas in the auditoriums reserved for guests with mobility challenges. Cineplex was the founding partner in this program initiated by Easter Seals.
For deaf or hearing-impaired guests, Cineplex offers a closed-caption unit that fits into a seat’s cupholder and uses a flexible arm to extend a small closed-captioned screen into the guest’s view. The on-screen display comes with a privacy visor, so it can be positioned directly in front of the theatre guest with no distraction to other guests.
Cineplex also offers an assistive listening device for guests who are hard of hearing but prefer not to use a closed-captioning screen. The earphone device amplifies sound produced by the theatre’s sound system. For visually-impaired guests, Cineplex has a device known as Fidelio for an audio description of all the great action taking place on screen.
Cineplex has spent millions outfitting their theatres with that technology in over 130 locations from coast-to-coast. “Manufacturers of the technology are challenged to keep up with us,” Jacob smiles. “We’ve also been very active working with the studios in Hollywood to get them to caption and describe he films,” shared Marshall. “Most consumers believe that that is our job, but it's not,” she explained. “We don't own the films.”
Cineplex’s admirable work has certainly not gone unnoticed. Several years ago Jacob was named Canada’s Most Innovative CEO and his company has been honoured with a number of top employer awards including Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Culture, as well as one of Canada’s Passion Capitalists for building a strong brand anchored by culture, and one of Canada’s 50 Most Engaged Workplaces.
The Executive Producer of the Disability Today Network, Tiessen is an amputee of 45+ years, three-time Paralympian and highly sought-after presenter from classrooms to board rooms, to conference and corporate stages.