Disabled boy, family asked to leave movie; mom says theater needs better training

  • Jennifer Daly and her sons Jonathan, 3, and Christopher, 6, were asked to leave a Lake in the Hills movie theater after patrons complained Jonathan, who has serious medical issues, was making too much noise.

      Jennifer Daly and her sons Jonathan, 3, and Christopher, 6, were asked to leave a Lake in the Hills movie theater after patrons complained Jonathan, who has serious medical issues, was making too much noise. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Jonathan Daly, 3, laughs at cartoons at his Lake in the Hills home. He and his mother, Jennifer, and brother, Christopher, 6, were asked to leave a theater after complaints that Jonathan, who has serious medical issues, was making too much noise.

      Jonathan Daly, 3, laughs at cartoons at his Lake in the Hills home. He and his mother, Jennifer, and brother, Christopher, 6, were asked to leave a theater after complaints that Jonathan, who has serious medical issues, was making too much noise. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/18/2019 6:16 AM

A Lake in the Hills woman who was asked to leave an April 12 screening of "Dumbo" with her two sons says employees at the movie theater need better training on how to treat patrons with disabilities.

An employee of the AMC Lake in the Hills 12 asked Jennifer Daly and sons Christopher, 6, and Jonathan, 3, to leave, saying other patrons had complained Jonathan was crying.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Daly said Jonathan, who has several disabling medical conditions, wasn't crying; he was laughing at funny scenes.

His giggle sounds different from other children's because of tracheobronchial malacia, a condition that affects his airway. He tends to squeak and babble a little before laughing, she said, and his laugh includes snorts and grunts. He is physically incapable of being loud, she said.

Daly took her sons to the movie to reward Christopher for good performance in school. She said a little more than halfway through the movie, a theater employee told her they would have to leave because people had complained.

"We weren't doing anything that would warrant having to leave," Daly said.

AMC disagrees, saying in a written statement it had "multiple reports" Jonathan was being disruptive, and that it offered alternatives to Daly, including having the family sit in the front row.

Daly said she doesn't believe the employee investigated the validity of the complaints. "The only thing I ask is, she should have made sure (the complaints) were legitimate, and troubleshoot the complaint," she said.

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In the lobby, Daly said, she believes the employee realized a mistake had been made. "I think she honestly felt bad," Daly said.

The employee offered to let her sons see another movie, attend a later screening of "Dumbo," attend a private screening the next day or go back in and watch the rest of the movie from the front row. The employee also gave the boys some toys.

An upset Daly refused all the offers.

Jonathan also has a form of dwarfism and a problem with his cervical vertebrae that requires a brace to prevent him from turning his head up, down or side to side, she said. In the front row, he wouldn't be able to see as much due to his neck issue, Daly said.

AMC reaction

AMC released a statement to media inquiries about the incident:

"To ensure a quality moviegoing experience for everyone, disruptive behavior is not permitted during a movie.

"During the show, an AMC manager received multiple reports from guests about an ongoing disruption during the movie. The manager investigated and identified the guest exhibiting disruptive behavior.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"During a conversation with the guest's mother, the manager offered several options, including relocating the family within the auditorium to minimize the disruption, offering a private show for the family, and informing her of AMC's Sensory Friendly Films program, which waives AMC's rules on disruptive behavior during a movie.

"The guest received a refund, but declined all of the other options offered. However, we remain open to a discussion with the family about welcoming them back to see the movie.

"We want everyone to feel welcome at the movie theatre, which is why AMC and the Autism Society established the Sensory Friendly Films program more than a decade ago. AMC is proud to offer unique movie showings where we turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so guests can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing."

A spokesman would not answer questions about how many people complained, whether the Dalys were given a warning, and whether other children in the theater were laughing or otherwise making noise.

Facebook post

A Facebook post that Daley wrote Saturday about the incident had generated more than 5,900 comments as of Wednesday morning.

Many were in support, with some saying the theater had discriminated against a disabled person and suggesting Daley file suit. Several posters said they had been at the movie and had not heard a baby crying.

Many said moviegoers should be more understanding of disabled children and accept that some with certain conditions, such as autism or attention disorders, may make more noise than other people.

But a minority said if Jonathan was making disruptive noise, he was not being discriminated against by being kicked out. They argued moviegoers have a right to enjoy disruption-free movies. Some said Daly was selfish for not taking AMC up on its offers.

Daly said she doesn't think going to a sensory-friendly show would work for Jonathan, because he has "moderate to severe" hearing loss. Daly said she doesn't want to sue or get free movie passes; she wants a change in the company's behavior.

"He should not be made to go to sit in a (sensory) movie because he does not laugh like other kids," Daly said.

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