As 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.
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 yourlocalcinema.com (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.