Hearing consumers need subtitles too

After reading the Limping Chicken blog on cinema subtitles and seeing one of our community members experience difficulties at the cinema, we thought we would add our views on the subject. Subtitles are more than ‘a deaf issue’. By limiting access to films, deaf and hard of hearing customers, their families and friends are also affected.  There are other wider social implications in terms of acceptance, equality and community cohesion. However, perhaps the most pertinent issue for cinemas is making money from a shared experience.

Shared experiences

At some point, cinemas forgot one of the reasons for their very existence.

Going to the cinema has always been a shared experience. From the very beginning, in the late 1800s, films were shown to audiences. Everyone marvelled at the new way to see stories.

In those days, films did not have sound so accessibility was not an issue for someone with hearing loss. Nowadays, however, we get the multi-sensory experience that “4DX” offers. While 4DX is exciting to some, the multi-sensory experience still has sound as its main focal point.

Hearing people can go to the cinema whenever they like and can even pre-book tickets for blockbusters like Marvel’s Endgame weeks before release. However, you won’t ever see a subtitled showing being offered on a pre-release basis. Subtitled showings are usually at an inconvenient time like 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon! And they are rarely offered on a daily or weekly basis. Customers with hearing loss (or their friends and family) are simply not as important as ordinary hearing folk.

Consumers want everything ‘now’

Cinemas cater to mainstream consumerism where consumers want everything ‘now’. However, more and more consumers are experiencing hearing loss. Given that cinemas cater to on-demand consumerism, it is difficult to understand why cinemas would make consumers wait, particularly when there are more comfortable options available.

Improvements in technology means a cinema experience is far more achievable at home than ever before. Watching a film from the comfort of your home becomes a much better option when you are forced to wait for a subtitled film – it’s no accident that Netflix has surpassed cinema as the favourite way to enjoy films.

What about friends and family?

Perhaps the most important point to note, is that we are not just talking about individuals. A standard ticket at our local cinema costs £12. There are 11 million people with some level of hearing loss or deafness and that figure is set to rise to 15.6 million by 2035 (RNID). If each person with hearing loss took at least one friend or family member with them to the cinema, then that’s around 22 million people who would access a subtitled film. In other words, just under 1/3 of the UK population could go to the cinema. As a rough revenue figure that’s £246,000,000 that cinemas are simply throwing away!

In a diverse and inclusive world, we should be able to share our excitement with others, feel involved and be part of an experience. It’s all very well making the experience ‘different’ and immersive with 3D and 4D options, but cinemas seem to have forgotten the ‘differences’ in customers. From a hearing perspective, we want deaf friends and family to feel the immersive experience on the first night of a blockbuster release – just like everyone else.

We are the same yet ‘different’

Subtitles are a reasonable adjustment that makes a shared experience inclusive to a wider range of consumers.

Subtitles also help those that have English as a second language. Ironically, cinemas are simply not looking at the bigger picture.

You could apply the same inclusive rules to any customer-facing business. If businesses are not accessible, customers won’t visit – it’s that simple. They’ll stay at home where life is less ‘complicated’. So, for any cinema managers out there, please provide subtitles on more films, especially new releases because hearing people (friends and family) need them too.

We are supporting Ellie Parfitt’s petition for more subtitled films to be shown at more reasonable times. The petition can be accessed here