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Hearing consumers need subtitles too

two girls watching a film at the cinema enjoying popcorn

After reading the Limping Chicken blog on cinema subtitles and seeing one of our community members experience difficulties at the cinema, we thought we would add our views on the subject. Subtitles are more than ‘a deaf issue’. By limiting access to films, deaf and hard of hearing customers, their families and friends are also affected.  There are other wider social implications in terms of acceptance, equality and community cohesion. However, perhaps the most pertinent issue for cinemas is making money from a shared experience.

Shared experiences

At some point, cinemas forgot one of the reasons for their very existence.

Going to the cinema has always been a shared experience. From the very beginning, in the late 1800s, films were shown to audiences. Everyone marvelled at the new way to see stories.

In those days, films did not have sound so accessibility was not an issue for someone with hearing loss. Nowadays however, we get the multi-sensory experience that “4DX” offers. While 4DX is exciting to some, the multi-sensory experience still has sound as its main focus point.

Hearing people can go to the cinema whenever they like and can even pre-book tickets for blockbusters like Marvel’s Endgame weeks before release. However, you wont ever see a subtitled showing being offered on a pre-release basis. Subtitled showings are usually at an inconvenient time like 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon! And they are rarely offered on a daily or weekly basis. Customers with hearing loss (or their friends and family) are simply not as important as ordinary hearing folk.

Consumers want everything ‘now’

Cinemas cater to mainstream consumerism where consumers want everything ‘now’. However, more and more consumers are experiencing hearing loss. Given that cinemas cater to on-demand consumerism, it is difficult to understand why cinemas would make consumers wait, particularly when there are more comfortable options available.

Improvements in technology means a cinema experience is far more achievable at home than ever before. Watching a film from the comfort of your home becomes a much better option when you are forced to wait for a subtitled film – it’s no accident that Netflix has surpassed cinema as the favourite way to enjoy films.

What about friends and family?

Perhaps the most important point to note, is that we are not just talking about individuals. A standard ticket at our local cinema costs £12. There are 11 million people with some level of hearing loss or deafness and that figure is set to rise to 15.6 million by 2035 (Action on Hearing Loss). If each person with hearing loss took at least one friend or family member with them to the cinema, then that’s around 22 million people who would access a subtitled film. In other words, just under 1/3 of the UK population could go to the cinema. As a rough revenue figure that’s £246,000,000 that cinemas are simply throwing away!

In a diverse and inclusive world, we should be able to share our excitement with others, feel involved and be part of an experience. It’s all very well making the experience ‘different’ and immersive with 3D and 4D options, but cinemas seem to have forgotten the ‘differences’ in customers. From a hearing perspective, we want deaf friends and family to feel the immersive experience on the first night of a blockbuster release – just like everyone else.

We are the same yet ‘different’

Subtitles are a reasonable adjustment that make a shared experience inclusive to a wider range of consumers.

Subtitles also help those that have English as a second language. Ironically, cinemas are simply not looking at the bigger picture.

You could apply the same inclusive rules to any customer facing business. If businesses are not accessible, customers won’t visit – it’s that simple. They’ll stay at home where life is less ‘complicated’. So, for any cinema managers out there, please provide subtitles on more films, especially new releases because hearing people (friends and family) need them too.

We are supporting Ellie Parfitt’s petition for more subtitled films to be shown at more reasonable times. The petition can be accessed here

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Free Deaf Awareness Training Sessions

different people around a globe showing the hearing aid symbol

We are hosting a series of Deaf Awareness sessions to help Third Sector organisations in Milton Keynes become accessible and inclusive to people with hearing loss.

This sessions will help organisations offer their activities to the wider community.

Who can attend the sessions?

These sessions are open to community groups and voluntary organisations. There are two places per organisation, on each training session

What will attendees learn?

Course attendees will learn about:

– the different types of hearing loss

– the barriers that prevent people accessing activities

– different communication methods

– how culture affects the perception of hearing loss

– ways to remove barriers to make organisations are more inclusive

– the benefits of being inclusive of deaf/hard of hearing people

Organisations will receive a ‘Deaf Awareness Kit’ full of information, hints and tips on how to become more inclusive. The kit will enable organisations to share newly-acquired knowledge with staff and volunteers.

Organisations can attend a second session to enhance their accessibility, by looking at making customer facing processes more deaf friendly.

Why are we running these sessions?

Organisations open to the general public often overlook deafness, because it is an invisible disability. This is despite the fact that globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 6 people have some level of disabling hearing loss. For Milton Keynes, that equates to around 49,000 people. It is the second most prevalent invisible disability after arthritis.

Hearing loss can lead to isolation as people withdraw from socialising with others. Communicating with others becomes ‘complicated’ and ‘tiring’. Isolation often leads to loneliness, depression and other negative health issues that cost our society around £6,000 per person in NHS treatment and social care.

Families of people with hearing loss also experience social exclusion because events need to be accessible for everyone in the family, not just the hearing members of the family group.

Why are these sessions free?

These sessions are free because we want to ensure as many organisations as possible benefit from our expertise and knowledge. We were awarded a grant from Milton Keynes Community Foundation, who are funding this important work.

Should organisations wish to make a donation, they can be made via our Local Giving page Any donation would be gratefully received as it would enable us to carry on supporting deaf and hard of hearing people overcome barriers when accessing services.

What happens at the sessions?

Sessions are fairly interactive. Attendees will participate in a number of exercises to gain a better understanding of the difficulties associated with communicating when you are deaf or hard of hearing. Places can be booked via Eventbrite.

We don’t need training, we welcome everyone’

Saying you are ‘Deaf Aware’ and being deaf aware are two different things. We invite you to take our survey and let us know about your accessible activities. We can then share your details with Deaf* and hard of hearing groups in and around Milton Keynes.

Deaf* refers to individuals who use British Sign Language and consider themselves part of a linguistic minority rather than having a disability.

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Deaf history

Understanding Deaf* history and the impact of Parliamentary decisions on those with profound hearing loss is key to appreciating the barriers faced by sign language users in the modern world.

Deaf people have fought for equality for over 100 years and continue to fight, despite recent events that will increase access to services (British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015).

The internet has helped increase interest in British Sign Language (BSL) by both members of the public and politicians. Hopefully, BSL’s popularity will translate into equality and improved access. (Deaf* refers to native sign language users who view themselves as members of a linguistic minority).

Deaf history summary

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Helpful hints when working with Interpreters

Sign Language interpreter
Sign Language Interpreter using BSL

Helpful hints when working with interpreters

When two parties use different languages, interpreters are used to facilitate communication. Contrary to popular belief, communication is not a given. Interpreters relay all elements of language, including the linguistic and cultural nuances from both languages. When effective communication is achieved, it is a rewarding experience for all, including the interpreter. 

Having worked with the Deaf Community for nearly 20 years, I have created a list of ‘helpful hints’ for those that want to make sure communication is effective when communicating with a deaf person who uses British Sign Language (BSL). 

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Where a lot of information needs to be given to others, it is in your interest to give resources to the interpreter beforehand, so they can prepare for the assignment. An interpreter is there to help you ensure your communication is effective. It helps if the interpreter has an idea of the subject matter, the topics you are intending to discuss, any jargon you need to use and the aim of the meeting/training session. Interpreters are not mind readers, it is helpful if they know what tools are at their disposal to perform an effective job.

Speak directly to the other party

Interpreters and regular users of interpreters, understand that communicating via a BSL interpreter can be confusing for you – you speak to one person yet hear the voice of another. Yes, it is true that the person you are addressing cannot hear your voice, but your body language and facial expressions convey valuable information too. Whenever you speak to someone, you usually address the person directly – the same applies to a deaf person who uses Sign Language. Deaf people, rely on visual clues so if you address the interpreter instead of the deaf person, communication becomes confusing.

This also means addressing questions directly to the deaf person e.g. “did you have any questions?” as opposed to “can you ask him/her if they have any questions?”

Eye contact

As with any conversation, your eye contact will be with the person you are communicating with – the same applies when you are communicating with a deaf person. However, please bear in mind that the deaf person may be using a combination of communication strategies to understand what you are saying. They may be lip reading (which is guess work, at best) as well as using the interpreter, so you will need to maintain a consistent approach to communication by following standard conversation behaviours.

Speak at your usual pace

BSL interpreters have trained for several years so know how to convey spoken language into BSL. If you pause…….before saying….….your next…..…. point, it……..disrupts……..the………flow….of ….communication.

 Avoid jargon

This is pretty much a universal rule when communicating, whilst you may know what acronyms are, the person you are communicating with (or the interpreter) may not. If you must use jargon, it is a good idea to follow the same rules for writing acronyms i.e. using the full term and then give the abbreviation.

Asking questions

It is normal for an interpreter to occasionally ask parties to clarify something – a phrase you have used or to check that they have not misheard something. At times, this may seem inconvenient, but it is in your interests to use an interpreter as efficiently as possible so that communication is effective.

Jokes, idioms, metaphors

These rely on some level of cultural knowledge and cannot always be translated into other languages so consider whether the joke, metaphor or idiom is necessary for getting your message across.

Definite no, no’s

Never say to an interpreter “don’t interpret that”, an interpreter is present to facilitate communication. Professional conduct rules also require interpreters to communicate everything that is said. If you do not wish something to be communicated, don’t say it. (In reality, you will find that most interpreters have already interpreted what you said, anyway).

Interpreter breaks

A sign language interpreter must use both visual and aural processing whilst interpreting so regular breaks are essential to maintain interpreting quality. Processing two languages simultaneously is like revving a car engine continuously – eventually the engine gets hot and wears out. The same applies to interpreters – the cerebral processing becomes impaired affecting the ability to interpret coherently. So if communication takes place over an extended period, then two interpreters are required so interpreting quality is maintained.

Interpreter’s opinion

Interpreters are there to facilitate communication and are not a source of advice or information when interpreting. If you need the interpreter’s opinion, you need to ask before or after interpreting has taken place. A word of caution – it is not appropriate to ask about the deaf person. Any question that relates to the deaf person, should be addressed directly to the deaf person.

These tips aim to help you feel more confident when using BSL interpreters. Interpreters are there to help both parties access communication so if you can support the communication process by using the tips above, you will find communicating across language barriers a positive and rewarding experience.


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Common misconceptions about communication


I attended several meetings recently where organisations have tied themselves up in knots about the word ‘support’. What is unsettling, is that these organisations are staffed by people who are articulate and are required to deliver key messages to the public on behalf of other organisations.

How can such a simple word such as ‘support’ cause organisations to become entrenched in their own ideology and cause disharmony, when the aim is to do the opposite?

One of the many hats I wear, is that of a sign language interpreter, so knowing how to work between two languages is second nature. I am always intrigued by how people use language – the words that are used, the manner in which they are used and the message that is conveyed to others. As an interpreter, I frequently facilitate communication between sign language users and people who speak English. However, English speakers quite often assume that because they have a wide range of vocabulary, can speak English and vary the tone of their voice that they communicate well.  Yet there are many instances, as described above, where communication has clearly failed, and information has been misunderstood. Needless to say, there are many English speakers who could improve their communication skills.

Communication is ‘the act of conveying information’ yet many people are unclear how to convey information effectively. There are many misconceptions around communication, so I have highlighted some of the most common misconceptions below:

  1. Communication is about talking or writing:

Communication is a two-way process and involves understanding the message and then being understood when responding. When information is conveyed to us via speech or in writing, the brain actually needs time to process the information. Our brain uses a number of biases as filters to discern meaning so if we respond without fully listening or understanding, our emotional trigger centre (the amygdala) responds, not the parts of the brain that are used to understand information. So, my tip is to listen and understand, not listen and reply. Responding comes later after you fully understand the information being conveyed.

  1. Communication just happens:

‘To assume, makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Just because you open your mouth and say something or put something in writing does not mean you have conveyed information that will be understood. It is a good idea to get someone else to check that what you want to say (or write) is clear and that your information will be understood. My additional caveat to this, is to ask someone who is ‘different’ to you. We all have differences – cultural, age, gender and so on. If you are going to convey information to a wide range of people, avoid checking with someone who is like you. To get a true sense of whether information is understood, you ideally need to ask someone who is outside your normal ‘in group’.

  1. We all use the same language so everyone should understand:

It is wonderful that some people want to play linguistic gymnastics with information but ‘keep it simple’ works wonders too, especially if you don’t want people wasting time trying to decipher acronyms or work specific jargon. Time is money and life is short, so keep it simple.

  1. Everyone got the email so they’re in the loop:

Effective communication works when each person is consistently updated. Don’t assume everyone has the same information or has understood the information. Communication is about repeatedly checking that everyone has received information and understands it.

  1. We don’t have time for questions:

I honestly believe there is no such thing as a stupid question. There is always that one person who attends meetings then constantly asks questions throughout, winding everyone up because the answers seem obvious or the questions seem trivial. Questioning is how people develop critical analysis skills and are also a good indicator that someone is actively listening because they are trying to make sense of information within their own understanding. Questions are great and should be encouraged. If you don’t like people asking questions, then you probably need communication training.

  1. Visual information has limitations:

The brain processes visual information far quicker than aural information and is a significantly better way of conveying information than text. This is fundamentally why social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram work – a picture paints a thousand words.  Flow charts, graphs, timelines and maps all help with conveying information. Using colours for key information can also make information clearer. Visuals can help avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding so if information can be conveyed visually, then use visuals instead of text.

  1. Videos communicate our message:

Subtitles, subtitles, subtitles! I cannot say this enough – when you create vlogs, use videos on your website or in presentations then you need to include subtitles. Some of us may well appreciate your dulcet tones. However, your message is important so why would you waste time creating videos that are inaccessible. Second language users, people with hearing loss or people that don’t want to use the sound on their media device, can’t hear what you have to say. Why go to all that effort for nothing!? My simple tip is that subtitles go with video just as strawberries go with cream.

Great communication can be achieved by everyone if we all take the time to think about how we convey messages and give ourselves time to understand.

I have been lucky enough to experience great communication when interpreting and it’s  wonderful, when it works for all parties involved.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

Let’s try to avoid the illusion of communication and learn to connect with others properly.

Any suggestions for other communication tips or comments generally, would be most welcome.