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Why I will never stop asking for subtitles

Published Date: 18 Feb 2020


I have been deaf from birth. Subtitles became very important in my life from the age of ten when we first got a teletext TV. I strongly believe that it played an important role in my development of the English Language. In an era where our viewing habits have changed; from streaming content in the home to socialising at the cinema, subtitles remain important.

However, the cinema industry is not as forward-thinking or accessible as we would like in this day and age. Even though under the Equality Act 2010 organisations and service providers (including cinemas) are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure equal access for customers with a disability, a lot of cinemas are still not providing access to their services. And our idea of ‘reasonable’ access is very different from that of the cinema industry.

Every deaf adult and child that has tried to go to the cinema will be very much aware that a visit can’t be made on impulse. Right across the UK, cinemas put on a limited number of subtitled screenings each week (if any at all).

Generally, the three main cinema companies (Vue, Odeon and Cineworld) say that, although they are not regulated, they set themselves a ‘standard’ of two subtitled screenings a week. But looking at the bigger picture, considering that the hearing customer has the choice of significantly more screenings every day and every week, deaf people are still not receiving anything like equal access.

There have been many occasions across the UK when deaf people have arrived to a screening, sometimes many miles away from their home (as we have to travel further for subtitled access), only for the subtitles to ‘fail’ and to be given a refund. This happens far too often. Though I rarely hear of screenings where the sound fails… How do we explain to our children that this is considered fair or reasonable by the cinema industry?

Deaf children get an even worse deal, as subtitled screenings are often restricted to times which are not convenient for families. They deserve better. We owe it to them as they turn into adults to be able to access the cinema just as their peers do.

Subtitles play an important part in our society, for deaf adults and children alike. Without subtitles we can’t join in conversations about the latest film in the school playground or with colleagues in the office. We can’t join friends or family for a night out to the cinema or even just enjoy a film after a day’s shopping.
I’m always asking my local cinema for subtitled screenings, sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no. I will never stop asking!

There are around 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss. That is a huge potential market just waiting to be tapped. All we want is the freedom to choose what we want to watch, where, and when.

Michelle Hedley has been passionately campaigning for subtitles for years. She has done extensive research about the availability of subtitled screenings and has been independently lobbying the main cinema companies. She regularly asks her local cinema to put on subtitled showings — often successfully!