Lionsgate offering deaf Americans access to movies in American Sign Language

Here in the UK, there is still a long way to go for Deaf people to have equal access to cinemas.

Using our local cinema chain as an example, only 2 out of 146 showings had subtitles, subsequently offering very little choice for deaf people who love to go to the movies.

Box Office hits

The top 50 box office hits usually include a subtitle track on the release date, but cinemas still hang on for around four weeks until they release the feature with subtitles.

To remedy this, they could simply switch subtitles on or off – but they prefer to schedule these screenings in advance.

And we’ve heard anecdotal stories of occasions where deaf people have turned up for subtitled screenings, and the subtitles have not been on.

Sadly, there is a mass assumption that the general public prefers NOT to have subtitles on the screen, yet there has been no research to qualify this.

Subtitled tech

The BBC reported that the technology that removes the need for subtitles on the screen (created by Sony back in 2011) is available. And if used, it would allow deaf cinema-goers to see the screen and the captions using specialist glasses.

Despite the availability of this technology and its potential to offer more options for deaf customers, it’s not being utilised by the cinema industry. And as a result, it alienates them from a popular social activity. And ultimately, it’s not making reasonable adjustments for this large group in society.

What can you do?

We’ve thought about this and have a suggestion that may help!

Why not: offer a weekly screening across a range of times of each film with subtitles. Add it to the website and to promote – then check if this has any impact.

Questions that need to be asked once this screening has taken place are: Do more deaf people and those with hearing loss attend the cinema when this service is available? And do hearing people really have an issue with subtitles? Were there any complaints about it?

On a more positive note, Lionsgate Entertainment Corporation has taken a different stance. They’ve actively sought to understand how deaf Sign Language users would prefer to access the cinema.

They are working alongside Nyle DiMarco, who was the first deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model and also won Dancing with the Stars. And from this, they’ve created a mobile app whereby deaf Americans can access American Sign Language on a second screen through their mobile device. This can be used for films, TV shows and works when used on a TV, laptop or in a theatre.

This is a classic example of a business that has understood its customer’s needs – before just placing a one size fits all solution.  Without fully understanding the market, how can you seek a solution?