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Lament of the hard of hearing cinema lover

Published Date: 05 Feb 2020

Ring Ring... Ring Ring...

"Hello, this is Generic British Cinema speaking, how can I help?"

“Hi, I was wondering if you have any subtitled screenings for Toy Story 56?”

"Oh, I'm not sure actually! Let me see..."

Distant typing noises for five minutes.

"Yes, it looks like we have one subtitled screening on Tuesday this week at 9 in the morning!"

Or, "I don't seem to have any way to search by subtitles. Let me ask my manager."

Or, "I'm sorry, sir, it doesn't look like we have anything at all." And then, with heartbreakingly sincere optimism in the speaker's voice, "We have audio described!"


At times like these, I gaze mournfully off into the middle distance, and remember the four years I spent in the United States.

There, cinema accessibility was a completely different story. Almost every single cinema uses personal closed caption devices. Here's how it goes:

  1. After booking your ticket, you head over to guest services and request a closed caption device.

  2. You are given a desk-lamp-like contraption. At one end is a small, three-line LED screen which is connected by a long wire to the other end, a plug designed to fit into the cup holder of your seat.

  3. When you get to your seat, you put the plug end into your cup holder and adjust the screen until it sits comfortably at eye level, just below the main screen.

  4. The subtitles are digitally synchronised to your screen number, and show up on your personal device in time with the movie. (Expect your hearing neighbours to lean over and sneak peeks when THEY didn't catch a line!)

  5. At the end of your movie, you hand the device back to guest services, and continue on your way.

Oh, and by the way, there's no rental fee or additional charge for using this service. And no, you don't have to prove you're disabled to use it either. 

In fact, you don't even have to be disabled. The technology is available for anyone who wants subtitles, for whatever reason.

I know, right?

So why is this option not available in the UK? Everyone points the finger at everybody else, while we stand on the side lines checking our watches and tapping our feet.

In this light, collaboration between cinemas and organisations such as the National Deaf Children’s Society seem more important than ever. After all, cinemas are as keen to show us their movies as we are to watch them.

The US seems to have it figured out. With communication and collaboration, maybe the answers we all seek aren't too far away after all.

It had better be. Toy Story 56 won't wait forever... 

— Kester Woof