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Subtitles campaign launched as deaf children miss out on cinema

Published Date: 29 Jan 2020
  • Almost all parents of deaf children say a lack of subtitled films is stopping their child going to the cinema.
  • Two thirds have stopped taking their child, preferring to watch films at home.
  • The National Deaf Children’s Society says it’s “a national disgrace” that children are missing out just because they’re deaf.
  • In response, the charity is launching a new campaign asking cinemas to either provide subtitles whenever they’re needed or use new technology to make films more accessible.

Thousands of deaf children across the UK are missing out on going to the cinema because films aren’t being shown with subtitles, the National Deaf Children’s Society says.

According to its new research with 621 parents of deaf children, 85% revealed that their child struggles to go the cinema because they can’t find screenings with subtitles.

Two thirds of parents (67%) have now given up on taking their deaf child to the cinema altogether, preferring to watch films at home where subtitles are guaranteed.

The National Deaf Children’s Society says the problem is widespread and affects thousands of deaf children across the UK.

In response, it’s launching Lights, Camera, Captions!, a national campaign to get cinemas to become more accessible for deaf children.

The campaign will ask every cinema in the country to work harder to ensure that all deaf children can access the films they want to see, either by providing subtitles whenever a deaf child needs them or using some of the new technology that now exists, such as captioned glasses.

Last summer, the National Deaf Children’s Society revealed that for major releases like The Lion King and Toy Story 4, more than half of UK cinemas didn’t have a single subtitled showing during the opening week. The figures were even lower for films like The Secret Life of Pets 2 (24%) and The Queen’s Corgi (10%).

The problem has continued into this year, with just 43% of cinemas showing subtitled screenings of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and a third (35%) providing any for Frozen 2 during the opening week.

Steve Haines, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“The message from parents is clear; deaf children can’t enjoy the same films as their hearing friends because cinemas won’t provide subtitles.

“Missing out on the cinema isn’t just about missing a new film. It’s about being excluded from society just because you’re deaf. It’s about the loneliness and isolation you experience. It’s about not being valued, when all it would take is a minor adjustment.

“This is a national disgrace and it has to change, so our promise to deaf children is that we’ll fight tooth and nail to persuade cinemas to open up their films for everyone to experience.

“All it would take is providing subtitles when a deaf child needs them, or using new technology. So the question is, which cinemas will be the first to make the same promise and give deaf children the chance to watch the films they love?”

Case study - Holly Parker, 18, lives in Thaxted, Essex. She’s severely to profoundly deaf and wears hearing aids.

“Where I live, there aren’t many deaf people. Maybe that’s why accessibility is so bad at the cinema. Me and my family rarely go now, we just wait for the DVD to come out. By then of course, the surprise of the plot is already ruined.

“I’ve had lots of bad experiences. I went to see a subtitled performance of a new Star Wars film once, but when it started, there were no subtitles. The audience was full of deaf people as it was the first subtitled screening. Everybody was so upset they got up and protested.

“They put the subtitles on, but it was so disappointing to be all ready to watch the film, only for the first 20 minutes to be shown without them. We shouldn’t have to protest to get a cinema to deliver on what it’s already promised.

“In Scotland, we once waited three or four hours in a town for a subtitled screening of a film I really wanted to see, but it didn’t have any and the staff said they couldn't turn them on. We left so disappointed and it put a real dampener on our day.

“A cinema near me has started ensuring they put on at least one subtitled screening a month of a popular film and it’s made a huge difference. They also asked if I would test out subtitled glasses, so of course I said yes. It’s just a shame that this is so rare.

“I fully support this campaign because I passionately believe that cinemas need to make sure that if they advertise a subtitled film, the subtitles actually come on. It would save so much disappointment because lots of deaf people really need them.

“More subtitled performances would also be very useful as there are often films that I want to see, but I miss out because there are such a limited amount, often at awkward times of the day.”