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Is the magic of the movies accessible to deaf children?

Published Date: 12 Sep 2019

I was at university when I went to my first-ever subtitled screening. Why so late? Well, one of the reasons why is the fact that subtitled screenings are so few and far between. Even then, the timings are far from convenient. A weekday afternoon screening, for example, is not the best timing for someone who works a full-time job!

For me, the rather sorry fact is that I now limit the movies that I go and see based on how likely I am to enjoy it. Why go through all the trouble of making things accessible and paying for a ticket, only to not enjoy the film? The freedom that hearing cinemagoers have is something I always find particularly frustrating.

However, technology has helped to make cinema accessible to some families. Cinemas in other countries, for example, have used the CaptiView system. Elsewhere, the UK Cinema Association (UKCA) recently launched a Subtitling Challenge Fund. This involves deaf cinema fans and industry professionals exploring new subtitling technology. It could mean more options being available to deaf children and their families in the future.

Yet these new solutions to make cinema accessible cannot come soon enough. Toy Story 4 featured a child with a cochlear implant, which was a positive bit of representation. Yet, when some deaf children can't see the movie due to a lack of subtitles, it was also painfully ironic. When we shared this news with families, we were overwhelmed with responses. Many of them highlighted just how much of an issue it was.

Now, we have the data. Some of the top children’s films this summer have had a shockingly low level of subtitled screenings in their opening week. Just under half of UK cinemas show subtitled screenings of The Lion King (48%). Meanwhile, only 5% of UK cinemas have showings of Ugly Dolls with subtitles.

Clearly, there is more work to do. Cinemas must do more to make the experience available to deaf children and young people. Movie magic is a wonderful thing, but it’s about time that it's made accessible for all.

Have you or your deaf child experienced poor access at the cinema? We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think about how accessible the cinema is for deaf children in our survey now.

Liam O'Dell

Liam is a Campaigns Officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society. He is mildly deaf, and wears hearing aids in both ears.