A deaf friend of mine recently booked some tickets to see a show that was subtitled. She was super excited, as this was a birthday gift to her mother, and seeing as her husband and her are deaf – accessibility a subtitled performance was the perfect way in which they could enjoy the joy of theatre together!

She was excited until she arrived at the theatre…

On arriving, she went to reception to hand in her tickets to be checked for entrance and was told that unfortunately, the machine that they use for the subtitles was in a van that had broken down on the motorway which meant that the theatre show would not be made accessible with subtitles.

Now, let’s be clear – this article is certainly not to either complain about the particular theatre involved or to be uber-critical about the provision.

What is happening and what could happen

We all recognise in life that if something is working, there are always ways to make things better and I believe that there is a long way to go before access to theatre for deaf people is where it needs to be.

She made a complaint to the box office, explaining that she was unable to watch the performance as she had no access to subtitles and what happened instead was that her Mother had to explain the key elements of the performance, having an impact on both of their enjoyment of the play.

The box office apologised and she left feeling extremely disappointed and a little disillusioned.

She decided that she would make futher contact to the theatre as she felt as though this was an issue that really needed recognising.

The team at the theatre decided that they would offer her tickets to attend another show. My friend was delighted as it seemed that her issue had not only been recognised but she was being recompensed for her lack of access.

What happened next was concerning. The theatre emailed her with a list of performances that she could access, and not one of them was subtitled.

So this meant that although the theatre were apologising, they did not really understand the problem that she has faced.

This did eventually get resolved, but it meant her looking through all of the theatre shows and pointing out to the team the shows that would be accessible for her.

Here are 3 things we know for sure:

1. We can never trust technology 100%: with 11 million deaf people in the UK, is it not about time that theatres look at investing money into their own captioning equipment so that they have them in-house rather than relying on external sources.

2. The lack of understanding here was obvious. The person who dealt with her at the theatre wasn’t really considering her needs as a deaf customer, and not dealing with the situation in a way that reflected her needs.

3. The team members that dealt with this issue, were unaware of internal processes. When she was unable to enjoy the show due to lack of subtitles; the box office simply apologised.  Only when she contacted them later did they think about offering her tickets for another show. It begs the question that if they were planning on offering these anyway; why they did not just choose to do is at the time of her initial interaction with the box office.

Deaf people face these issues on a daily basis.  Have a think about the impression that this experience left on her; and the number of people with who she shared this story; and think of how you can make changes so that this does not happen to you.

Check these out…

The Cinema Subtitling Challenge