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Broadcasters don't realise the importance of subtitles

Tuesday, December 2nd 2014 by Dean Reilly

Broadcasters shouldn’t wait until they personally need subtitles on TV to realise the service needs improving, the CEO of a disabled campaigning charity has said.

Jennie Williams, chief executive officer of Enhance the UK, told Cable.co.uk: “So many people are living longer, and as a result, every single one of us at some point in our lives is going to be disabled – fact.

"Whether it be we lose a bit of our sight or hearing or whatever. Such a large majority of people will lose their hearing or their hearing will go.

“I don’t want you, Mr Broadcaster Man, to wait until you are in your 80s or 90s, to build up the same level of frustration that I’m feeling now. It’s really important. Why shouldn’t we have the same viewing experience as anyone else?”

Acknowledging that progress had been made, Miss Williams said that deaf viewers now expect programmes to have subtitles when previously they wouldn’t.

Yet although the amount of subtitled content on UK TV outnumbers programming with audio description, the two services shouldn’t be compared, she added.

“The interesting thing about audio description is that there’s an awful lot of people who are registered as blind who actually don’t even like audio description. It distracts them, and they’re actually quite happy with their imagination and listening to what goes on. That’s a big difference – some people like it, some people don’t.

“If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you don’t have a choice: you have to watch TV with subtitles. Well, you do have a choice – you could just look at the pretty pictures. But I’d say it’s fundamental to television watching that you understand what you’re watching.”

Miss Williams said that deaf people face similar problems with trips to the cinema, which was an indicator of how poorly members of the deaf community fare when trying to enjoy mainstream entertainment.

She added: “Going out to the cinema is a whole different conversation, but a lot of shows don’t have subtitles, or you have to go to the cinema at 11.30 on a Thursday morning, because obviously deaf people don’t have jobs and can just sit there eating popcorn. It’s 2014, and I can’t believe things are still as bad as they are.”

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