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      Lost in translation: our fight for cinema subtitles

      If you have hearing loss, following a film without subtitles can be hard or impossible. Michelle and Ellie tell us about campaigning for #SubtitledCinema.

      By: Michelle Hedley and Ellie Parfitt | 31 July 2018

      Going to the cinema is an activity experienced by millions of people every year, whether it’s part of a shopping trip, or birthday party, or just an outing with friends. However, being able to go to the cinema is a part of life that many deaf people are excluded from. There are 11 million people in the UK with some level of hearing loss, many of whom would like to visit the cinema but can’t, because of a lack of subtitled showings.

      Over the years, both of us have asked the cinema industry to increase the provision of subtitled screenings. We’ve now combined our efforts in a quest to improve access for deaf people. We want to watch what we want, when we want.

      What’s the problem?

      We’re both avid film fans. But without subtitles, we’re unable to follow the dialogue during the film. The biggest issue we face is that subtitled screenings are shown during unsociable times – this means that deaf people either have to take time off work to attend or stay up late. This makes it almost impossible to share the experience with friends and family.

      Going to the cinema is also a postcode lottery – some local cinemas will have subtitled screenings, but some people have to travel up to 50 miles to find an accessible screening. There are also stories of those arriving to a screening, sometimes miles away from home, only for the subtitles to 'fail'. Although we rarely hear of screenings where the sound fails.

      Ultimately, due to these factors, deaf customers do not have the same access to cinemas in the same way as other people.

      What’s the evidence?

      Between February and June 2018 we looked at four different cinema providers and how often they put on subtitled screenings over a course of four and a half months. This was in our local areas: Norwich, Northumbria and the surrounding areas. The worst provider showed only 31 subtitled screenings out of a total of 7,618 screenings, which is only 0.4% of their screenings per week. In comparison, the best provider had 153 subtitled screenings out of a total of 5,898 screenings, which is an average of 2.6% of their screenings per week. This shows how varied the provision of subtitles can be depending on the cinema chain – and how few showings are actually subtitled.

      The statistics worsen when we look into new blockbuster releases such as The Avengers. At one venue in the opening week, there were 179 film screenings, but only two were subtitled.

      Our research shows that over four months, there were more than 5,000 screenings in the areas we looked at that hearing people were able to access, whereas deaf customers in comparison had just over 150 screenings they could attend – that’s just 3% of the opportunities to go to the cinema afforded to hearing people. Hearing people have the freedom to choose what, when and where they want to attend, while, at present, deaf cinemagoers are confined to a handful of screenings.

      Michelle with subtitles
      Michelle Hedley

      What the providers said to us

      We contacted all the providers that we recorded results for and have been met with very similar 'copy and paste' responses that tell us that they are doing all they can.

      They feel that they already have a reasonable standard of a minimum of two films per week accessible with subtitles and use the argument that hearing cinemagoers complain about subtitles being provided and that it 'spoils' their enjoyment. However, as we have said, these are at unsociable times and there are other issues.
      We are not asking for every film to be subtitled, but at least one of every film in sociable hours. We’re continuing to tackle this issue, but we need your help.

      Here’s how you can get involved!


      1. Sign the petition
        This was set up by Ellie. The more signatures, the better!

      2. Contact your cinema!
        Keep asking cinemas for more subtitled screenings via email, Twitter, Facebook or maybe request a face-to-face meeting. No matter how many times you may have already done so, it’s a good reminder that we will not give up!

      3. Share your experiences
        We’d love to hear about your cinema experiences (good and bad) on social networks. Please tag the cinemas and use #SubtitledCinema

      Together, united with one voice, we are asking the cinema industry for the freedom to choose and watch whatever we want, whenever we want and wherever we want! #SubtitledCinema

      Ellie
      Ellie Parfitt

      Find out more about our Subtitle it! campaign aiming at improving access to subtitles on video-on-demand content

      Take part in the Cinema Subtitle Tech Challenge

      Help us find a solution that allows deaf and hearing-impaired people to have an integrated cinema experience with the wider public.

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