Sign our petition for multiplex cinemas to dedicate one screen to subtitled films

Posted on December 19, 2017

Following the uproar over Odeon Cinemas removing the subtitles from a deaf-accessible screening after complaints from hearing people in the audience, our editor Charlie Swinbourne wrote an article detailing 5 things cinemas could do to improve provision for deaf and hard of hearing people. One of those ideas, asking multiplex cinemas to dedicate one screen to subtitled films, has now become a petition on Further details are below, please sign the petition here.

One in six people in the UK have some level of deafness. If all UK multiplex cinemas (defined as cinemas with five or more screens) dedicated just one of those screens to showing films with subtitles all day, every day, this would give more than 11 million deaf and hard of hearing people much greater freedom to enjoy the magic of film.

Going to the cinema is a magical, transforming experience. But imagine if you couldn’t go when you wanted to. That’s the reality facing deaf and hard of hearing people.

We require subtitles to be able to watch films at the cinema. Without subtitles, which tell us what the characters are saying, we cannot follow the plot.

However, subtitled screenings are few and far between.

In many areas there are a handful of screenings each week (as opposed to thousands for non-deaf people) and they are often organised at inconvenient times, like midday, during the week, when many deaf people are working.

We typically cannot go to the cinema at peak times, or on a Saturday, when everyone else can. Furthermore, we have a limited choice, depending on which films the cinemas decide to make accessible.

What makes matters worse is that when we do go to the cinema, we are met with poor deaf awareness, sometimes finding that the subtitles aren’t switched on, and worse, when they are, some non-deaf people complain about them, which has led to incidents where deaf people have been told the subtitles are being turned off, removing their access.

The Equality Act 2010 is intended to legally protect deaf and disabled people from discrimination and also compels all businesses, as cinemas are, to offer reasonable adjustments for deaf and disabled customers.

If cinemas told wheelchair users that they could only attend a handful of screenings each week out of the thousands of screenings available, there would be an outcry. However, this is the situation facing deaf people.

Many deaf and hard of hearing people believe that they are being discriminated against, and that cinemas are not offering them reasonable adjustments.

40% of UK cinemas are multiplexes, while muliplexes control 75% of all UK cinema screens.

Dedicating one screen at multiplexes to subtitled films would not solve all of the problems at one stroke, but it would go some way to opening up the cinema industry to deaf and hard of hearing audiences, and represent something closer to a reasonable adjustment.

It would also mean that cinemas would become aware of the demand for cinema among deaf and hard of hearing people, and give this portion of the audience the chance to develop and become regular cinema-goers, which they can’t at the moment.

I am a deaf journalist and filmmaker, and I love film. I grew up in a deaf family and one of my earliest memories is of seeing Disney’s Peter Pan at my local cinema, only to find that I couldn’t understand what the characters were saying. I watched many films without being able to fully understand them before realising subtitled screenings existed, transforming my cinema-going experience.

However, with that discovery came realising how poor the provision was, and how little choice deaf people had over when they could go to cinemas, and, after seeing the effort theatres were putting into captioned and BSL-interpreted screenings, I realised how much better it could be.

In 2011, I wrote a Guardian comment article pointing out how cinemas were letting deaf people down, and since then, as the editor of the deaf blog Limping Chicken, I have posted numerous articles from deaf film fans explaining the issues they’ve had attending subtitled screenings at the cinema. I am dismayed to find that the situation has not improved – in fact, even though digital technology has made showing subtitles far easier, the outlook for deaf cinema fans like me appears to be getting worse.

I have started this petition because I believe giving subtitled films their own screen is a specific and simple measure which is reasonable to ask for, and has the potential to have a massive impact.

Please sign this petition and help change deaf and hard of hearing people’s lives through giving them access to the magic of the movies.

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

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