Subtitled Cinema & Me

A picture of Ellie Parfitt at the cinemaAs a deaf teenager I am resigned to the sad fact that some typical teenage activities are not accessible to me. Growing up in the predominantly hearing world, places to go and things to do socially and for leisure are fairly limited. I am profoundly deaf, and have been since birth. I wear two digital hearing aids and communicate through lip-reading and speech.

Common outings amongst young people are pop concerts, nightclubs, theatre, comedy and music. I accepted a long time ago, that they won’t be available or suitable for me, which severely restricts my social inclusion. Other activities, depending on each circumstance are possible, but only with the right support or adaptation.

Going to the cinema for most people is a common social outing to enjoy with family and friends. Until I was 18, I had only been to the cinema two or three times. Seeing the latest film release or most talked about movie was something my family has always accepted as almost impossible because of the lack of subtitled screenings.

Unrealistic Expectations

When mum searched for subtitled showings in our local cinema, I know she fully expected not to find any. She told me she felt that if she ever stumbled across a suitable film with captions, she likened it to winning some money on the lottery. As a parent, she felt that the inability to take her family on an outing to the cinema was a right (however small) denied to us, which many others take for granted.

When so many other activities are just not suitable because of the sound issues, why can’t subtitled cinema be an option? For so long – from my childhood into teenage years – it just wasn’t possible. In Norfolk, where I live, with a population of just under 900,000 people, why was it acceptable to screen only one subtitled showing of an unsuitable film in one far off location at an ungodly time of the day or night? I don’t know why they think that deaf people don’t have jobs or enjoy going to cinema really late at night. In the end my mum and I simply gave up looking, knowing the only option was to wait and buy the DVD, hoping it had subtitles, which thankfully it usually did.

A Deepened Sense of Isolation

When you ‘struggle’ as a teenager to fit into society, to feel included and strive for that sense of belonging to your peer group, discussion about the latest blockbuster or the appearance of popular celebrities in new film releases can make me feel really isolated. It’s a horrible feeling. It even cut off my hearing brother from his friends when we couldn’t go to the cinema.

This was the all too familiar situation for the whole of my teenage years until recently when I started my blogging and taking interest in deaf issues. Things came to a head last year, when my family and I decided enough was enough and something had to change. We had to single handedly ‘take on’ our local Odeon cinema when we wanted to see the new James Bond film ‘Spectre’.

Looking online, Mum was literally incensed. With a choice of over 40 screenings of Spectre on a day in the opening week, not one was subtitled. A challenging telephone call (on my behalf) was made, with the manager of our local Odeon. They revealed it wasn’t their ‘policy’ to show a subtitled performance in the opening week of a film! (Something to do with no ‘demand’ and upsetting other cinema goers). But surely one subtitled screening would not prevent cinema goers from attending one of the other 39 showings?!

Furthermore, why should anyone be able to decide that deaf people can’t go to the cinema?

A Long Way To Go

It wasn’t until my mum reluctantly pointed out the possible breach of the Equality Act during a follow up call with the Regional Manager, that Odeon actually sat up and listened. However, despite this small breakthrough, today I am looking through (the website for information on subtitled film showings in the UK) and am disappointed to find there’s hardly any showings for the film I want to see. Perhaps the progress I thought we made was all in my imagination.

Captioning in different formats has been limping along and luckily gaining momentum, but it hasn’t been easy. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. As a group, the deaf community has not given up [I hope!] and has worked hard to achieve this long awaited progress and ultimate inclusion.

What are your experiences with subtitled cinema? Are you frustrated with the lack of viewings still available? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Article brought to you by Ellie Parfitt, blogger at Day in the Life of a Deafie.

12 thoughts on "Subtitled Cinema & Me"

  1. Tina says:

    I am deaf with 2 CIs, and don’t sign, I lipread too. Just because English is my first language, that doesn’t mean I can access the cinema. I can’t.

    We need to make a lot of noise and keep shouting for our access rights.

    The official #captioncinemas campaign is on Facebook at

  2. Helen McComb says:

    Hello, I live in Gloucester city and have lost a good deal of my hearing since about age 60 (I’m now 66). For about the last 30 years I have visited the local council-owned arts centre and enjoyed a wide variety of indie-type film, including sub-titled non-English films.
    Since sub-titles became available they had trialled them by offering some showing of some films, in no predictable way, and film programmes are published later and later. They have now given up on sub-titling.
    On the plus side there’s a community cinema which opened last year, which will sub-title its 2 Sunday night screenings of the main film on request. This was a response to e-mails from me when it first opened, there is no T-loop there. Monday was ST night last year but it has moved to Sunday this year – not so good if you weekend away.
    Local multiplex UGC is very poor on ST screening – rare and at obscure times.
    I think technology will solve this in time but it’s some way off, and in the meantime we are being excluded. Maybe we need to get more SHOUTY about it, and maybe hearing filmgoers need educating to accept STs and move on?

  3. Martyn says:


    I agree that there aren’t enough subtitled films at the cinema. The ones I’ve seen have been great, but what gets up my nose is that the trailers and ads which precede the subtitled film are NOT subtitled!
    I’m not a great fan of these trailers and ads but there is a principle here and they should be treated the same as the main feature. I always get the feeling that the cinema just doesn’t care.

    We deafies have to keep feeding back into the system to improve things for all.

  4. Ray Baldry says:

    I think the problem is in the subtitling image distraction and so the way forward is to change that and make it more individual rather than for everyone. The technology is there but it needs an enterprising person/institution/university to refine and perfect it.
    Whatever it may be, it needs a deaf person to do it. Thereby showing enterprise and application from within and not relying on other disinterested parties to do it for us.

  5. Sandra Cross says:

    Dear Ellie
    Don’t know if you remember me I worked with you at Wymondham College when you were in years 7&8. I knew at the time what a special girl you were so determined to succeed and such a hard working student. You have done so well to raise issues that most of us take for granted. I wish you well and I’m sure that you will achieve your goal of getting subtitles at cinemas.

  6. Anna says:

    Hi I’m really glad to see someone raising this issue. As you say most teenagers struggle to find how they ‘fit in’ and being denied access to social and cultural events makes it even hard. I absolutely can’t stand the argument that hearing people finding the subtitles ‘distracting’ or ‘annoying’. I feel like telling them that I find a life-long disability somewhat inconvenient at times too. It’s hardly a big ask for people who don’t have this disability to tolerate subtitles for 90 minutes. We should all be prepared to make small adjustments in our lives for people who have a disability, it is incredibly selfish and small-minded to do otherwise.

  7. Ms C says:

    Hi Ellen. I’ve found you! Beautifully written blog and I am so sorry you have to face these obstacles in life. Don’t give up fighting because if anyone can make a difference it’s you and if nobody highlights these issues, nothing will change. Good luck!

  8. Thank you to everyone for your comments. At Deaf Unity we hope to expand on relevant issues such as subtitled cinema which are ongoing causes of exclusion and isolation for individuals with hearing difficulties. Ellie is a beacon of strength and inspiration to the young deaf community and we are so grateful to her, and yourselves, for supporting our cause.

  9. susie stevenson says:

    I have been reading all these messages, being deaf myself and I think with all the technology we have , All the cinemas and televisions should be automatically subtitled soon as you switch on and then given the choice to turn off, I am aware its more difficult at the cinemas but surely the screen is big enough to take it.

  10. Duncan Milne says:

    Im not deaf myself but partner has profound hearing loss. Going to the cinema is a no go for us due to lack of screenings and ridiculous times when they are on. Partner wants to see the new Bridget Jones film but none of the three cinemas in Aberdeen have a single show.

    Last December we had to travel over 100miles to see a subtitled screening of the latest Star Wars movie, only for Vue Cinema to change the subtitled screening we’d booked from 21:45 to 18:00 without informing me.

  11. Carla harrison says:

    My husband is profoundly deaf with only one CI
    We as a family would love to go to the cinema but find it virtually impossible due to lack of subtitled movies
    I have just looked again for this eeek at vue at york 40 miles from where we live and out of all their film showings there is one film with subtitles !! Appalling x x

  12. Jessica Lewis says:

    I have never had the experience of being able to see a film with subtitles. I often go wit friends and struggle to understand what is going on. I hope In my lifetime things will change, we have so much going on the lesbian, gay, trans community. But still so far to go for deaf people, its a real shame and people need to understand how we suffer. What can we do to make these changes?

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