Deaf Life2nd March 2014

'That was then, this is NowTV' with no subtitles

The explosion of downloadable films is welcome, but too few are still offered with subtitles

by Laura Newcombe

Friday night movie fest with the ladies usually consists of a living room consumed by a concoction of Hollywood infused romance with a few comedic traditions added to the mix. Or, if we are feeling really adventurous, an action packed night complimented by a few rounds of gun fire and deafening explosions; which naturally includes a character or two with buns of steel to save the day. Definitely no disappointments there for my eager friends who so far are able to understand the deranged mumblin of these dry and quick witted anti-hero protagonists. I, on the other hand, am struggling to decipher the difference between gibberish and English. In fact, I often wonder if I am listening to a foreign language. After all, from a deaf point of view, I might as well stick to watching the foreign language film range. This is why I have a genuine love for subtitles, as finally I do not have to spend the majority of my time picking up on visual clues to piece together bits of the film that I am watching.

However, although the DVD market has embraced the option of subtitles, there have been qualms about the availability of captions via pay per view films online. Almost gone are days where the simple task of returning a DVD by hand to a rental store was a standard routine for society. While most people returned their DVD’s on time, some of us (namely me) due to a bout of temporary amnesia would often forget, resulting in the arrival of a hefty bill. Named and shamed and forced to cough up the cash at the till with a disapproving head shake from the till assistant, I vowed to never put myself in that position again. Which is why I was more than happy to embrace a new digital age of online rentals where I could finally be spared the embarrassment of another tardy trip to the store. Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as foraging for online films with subtitles was not that dissimilar to searching for a needle in a haystack.  

With a selection of films on Sky’s NOWTV appearing to offer the choice of subtitles, I was thrilled to discover that the chosen film for our ladies night could be captioned without the need to buy a DVD. However, seconds after purchasing our evening movie, we were surprised to discover that despite switching the subtitle setting on, it refused to work. It turns out the film that we had selected did not carry the option of captions despite the fact we had been led to believe otherwise. By this point the rental fee approximating four pounds had been charged to my friend’s account, frustrated was not even the word at this point. My friend kindly offered to indulge in another film from her current DVD collection, in order to soften the blow.

However, I decided to brave it and interpret the film ‘Robot and Frank’ (2012 dir, Jake Schreier) through the actions of the characters on screen. With a little bit of help from my friends, or shall we say after firing a few questions and clueless expressions at them every five minutes, I can honestly say I felt drained and exhausted by this predicament; in fact I am sure they missed a few tantalising moments through their attempt at translating what seemed to be a surreal if not ambiguous plot.

From a deaf point of view, it is hard to comprehend why it is difficult to supply an extensive range of films online that have the option of subtitles included. After all, buying a DVD in store will allow you the choice of checking if a film is captioned or not as it is often labelled on the back of a DVD box. In fact, Ian Noon, a writer who is deaf and works for a deaf charity, complained in his blog, ‘Love film, but hate lack of online access for deaf people,’ about LoveFilm’s inability to provide subtitles for the deaf. He states that the father of a deaf daughter became frustrated and annoyed with LoveFilm’s lack of subtitles within their collection of online film rentals. Interestingly, he makes a valid point that this seemed to be a situation that was currently affecting a multitude of deaf film lovers.

He rightly states that these online film companies are not adhering to the Equality Act 2010 through their inability to provide reasonable adjustments online for the deaf. He does come up with ways of campaigning for improved online access, such as contacting these companies direct, raising your concerns with the ‘Equality and Human Rights Commission;’ even approaching media regulators such as Ofcom is a possibility, because despite the fact that they only currently regulate telecommunication access, it would definitely make a difference for the deaf if they had an impact on online accessibility.

There have been reports that Netfilx does have a subtitle option, however, viewers do not seem to get a huge selection of films in comparison to NowTV. It is frustrating to accept that access for the deaf, despite the introduction of new online communications, is sadly taking us back to the days where viewing films with subtitles was almost non-existent. With the steady but sure decline of DVD discs in favour of downloads, captions could soon become even harder to get hold of unless you adopt a computer savvy approach through downloading and ripping your own subtitles. But why should we? Surely we deserve to be treated equally in society, new technology should improve independence for the deaf, not diminish our capacity to enjoy watching films with our peers.

So, while the now is not necessarily positive in regards to online accessibility, the then is surely in the past and with technology developing at a rapid rate, regulating online communications in relation to equality is an area that is definitely in need of a review.  I know I am not the only one fed up with having to give up on my love of film due to the limited supply of subtitles online. In an ideal world a great escape to the movies with a helping of literal translations would be paradise. However, unless we all make a stand and prove to these companies and media regulators that subtitles are a vital point of communication for the deaf, online access will leave those dependent on captions in a cyber-limbo.

Article by Laura Newcombe

posted in Community / Deaf Life

2nd March 2014