Dean Wales: Do hearing people really dislike cinema subtitles? Fill in my survey to find out

Posted on February 3, 2017

Fill in Dean’s survey on cinema subtitles here.

I have a lot to thank my deaf friends and colleagues for. They pushed and encouraged me to learn BSL (although I can fingerspell far quicker than I can read it and I sometimes sign ‘meat’ instead of ‘easy’).

They’ve introduced me to new and interesting people and I’ve spent some of the funniest times out socialising with them; boy they know how to have fun.

If you were to ask me however to name one single thing my deaf friends have brought into my life that I’m truly thankful for, and I make no apologies if this sounds trite, it would have to be awareness.

Okay I’m going clarify that quickly.

I grew up with a blind friend. She had an obvious eye defect, ended up with a guide dog and I instinctively knew where I needed to consider aspects of everyday life she’d have some difficulty with, or indeed where I had to step in and offer some assistance. Although a frequent jab in the ribs suggested on many occasions she was more than capable and that I should stop fussing.

When I landed the Head of PR job at a subtitling technology company 6 years ago and automatically met and made friends with folk with varying degrees of hearing loss, for some reason, (maybe because as people often cite it’s not a visible disability) I became a shameful, bumbling fool. Making all the absurd mistakes you frequently read about in blogs like asking if they read braille or suggesting they try a great audio book I’d just finished.

I suppose the one person I began the most enlightening journey of awareness with and almost I suppose lived some aspects of deaf life through is my remarkable BSL tutor. Profoundly Deaf from birth and very open about the challenges she faces, over the time I spent with, I became more attuned to those challenges.

I have since then, grown more irritated and disappointed by the mind-boggling and unnecessary lack of access provided for deaf people. Even more so by organisations, businesses and venues who ignorantly – even condescendingly – brush the need to offer deaf access aside.

Yes, you may say that the recent furore over the disrespect and arrogance displayed by cinemas over the lack of or the poor planning of subtitled movies frustrated me on a professional level. No, not all. Whether these guys show the subtitled films or not, our technology would’ve have already been used to create the subs in the first place, whether or not they’re finally used.

What infuriated me on a truly personal level was that the lack or total absence of subtitled showings appears to be driven by “having to consider” the majority of their customers, who were hearing and would be annoyed by the presence of subtitles. That would be “inconsiderate”.

Now I’m a fairly active Tweeter and yes I have Deaf followers and those with similar principles as me on the unquestionable need to offer access. However I wanted to obtain a snapshot of how many of my, dare I use the term ‘disinterested’ hearing followers really cared that the movie they were about to munch popcorn through had subtitles.

So, crude that it was, I tweeted a poll asking my hearing followers only: “Would you find it off-putting to arrive at a cinema & discover the film has sound but is subtitled for deaf?”

The result from the 51 respondents was 10% yes to 90% no. More encouraging however were the comments made by those who saw my tweet:

“Subtitles are something people need to learn to love. They can take a bit of getting used to, but are helpful for many, not just Deaf.”

“Not at all; very often the sound is so loud I struggle to be able to hear it so subtitles would be welcome.”

“I’m officially hearing, but miss lots of bits, esp on tv. Don’t really notice thou until I turn the subs off!”.

“Not at all, I normally have subs on TV even with good hearing.”

So, in the effort to run a survey that would generate results and carry considerably more weight than my twitter effort, I’m asking the hearing people reading this to click on the link and complete the survey. And of course, pass it on.

Cinemas keep telling us and the press that the lack of subtitled showings is due partly to lack of demand but primarily to having to keep the majority of customers happy.

If we can go some way to proving that the hearing majority actually aren’t all that fussed if subtitles are present on the movie they watch, we may be able to begin our fight back.

Dean has worked as Head of Global PR for Screen Subtitling Systems who developed the first ever electronic subtitling system back in the 1970s for 6 years. Since his appointment he has raised the profile in the company again of subtitles for the hard of hearing and has been instrumental in running TV Access Services summits in London. A BSL Level 3 student, Dean also volunteers as a Community Fundraising Ambassador for Action on Hearing Loss.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.

The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:


Posted in: dean wales