Michelle Hedley: My deaf-friendly Harry Potter Studios experience

Posted on April 1, 2016

With the advent of the digital age, technology has presented it own issues to the deaf community.

More and more organisations are resorting to using digital means to present their information, be it news via a video on the BBC website or audio/video guides in a museum.

The lack of subtitles has meant that more and more digital content has become inaccessible due to this oversight by various organisations.

Earlier this year my Family and I decided to visit Harry Potter Studios as a treat, and as I had heard that a part of the tour consisted of a “cinema experience,” I checked their website to see if this would be accessible to deaf visitors.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 12.09.56I was unable to find any reference to the availability of subtitles although I was glad to see there was provision of a BSL interpreter if booked in advance. Of course this meant that a part of the deaf community would still be excluded.

To be fair, most organisations probably do not realise, that not all deaf people sign and that we have differing hearing losses and communication mediums.

I contacted the Leavesden studios to find out whether they could assist me in enjoying the cinema experience alongside my (hearing) family members.

I asked them to explore the possibility of a transcript if they could not provide subtitles, and hoped that something could be put into place before I arrived.

I was happy to go about the self guided tour myself as I can lipread pretty well and it was only the cinema part that I knew I would have difficulties with.

Last weekend, seven of us – all excited Harry Potter fans – arrived at the venue and reported to the Information Point.

I still wasn’t sure what arrangements had been put in place but was greeted by very friendly staff.

I was introduced to the Duty Manager and also another Guide (Briony) who explained the process and that they had managed to produce subtitles on a small iPad type player.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 12.09.50My family and I then felt like film stars and we were ushered past the huge queues and entered the first cinema room via the staff entrance before anyone else.

It was then explained to me that the guide in the room would make a speech, whom I would lipread – I was right at the front – and then when she started the cinema presentation I would be passed a player showing the same digital content but with subtitles.

I was thrilled with this. We then were ushered into the next cinema room which had tiered seating, and we realised that they had seven seats reserved with VIP on especially for us!!

It was really funny to see the others looking at us to see if we were anyone famous!! The same thing happened again, a speech by another guide and then I watched the presentation with subtitles via the hand held player.

The whole cinema experience probably only lasted about 15 minutes but I cannot tell you how excited and delighted I was to be able to get the same access to the content as my family!

It meant that we were able to later converse together about what we had seen which would not have been the case had this not been made available. It may have been only a small part of the overall tour but it had a huge impact as it helped to build up to the moment of entering the Great Hall!

All too often we are excluded and left hanging due to a lack of thought. It is a real pleasure to be able to share my positive experience with you and it shows that just a bit of communication with them can work wonders!

I must say a big thank you to the Director of Visitor Experience at Leavesden Studios who was instrumental in this and had the foresight to realise its importance.

If any of you reading this are Harry Potter fans wondering whether to visit, my advice would be quite simply to GO!!

If you are needing assistance, either via BSL or subtitles, please contact them in advance – either by email or post (or telephone them if you are able to) – with details of your visit and your requirements, and they will be very happy to help you! My tip would be to allow at least 4 hours to enjoy everything (I was only given 3 hours by my coach company and we felt we had to rush the last part.)

Please note that it is important to arrange in advance as the player with subtitles will not be readily available ad hoc, as well as the BSL interpreter whom I understand will also stay with you throughout the visit.

All in all, for my family and I, it was truly a magical experience! I hope this helps many of you to also experience this venue.

Michelle is a Geordie originally from Tyneside, now living just inside the border of Northumberland. She loves discovering music and also has a love of the theatre, especially musicals. She’s a fan of science-fiction, watches anything on TV that is subtitled, and is now reliving her childhood renting DVDs! She was previously our Big Brother correspondent, is a geocacher, and is on Twitter as @Shelle02

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