How can we make our cinemas Deaf friendly?

Duncan Carson from the Independent Cinema Office spoke to David Ellington of VS1 Productions about how to best make cinemas accessible and engaging for D/deaf audiences.

David (interpreted by Jess Veal) began by giving background information on how D/deaf people communicate, explaining British Sign Language (BSL), Sign Supported English (SSE), and oralism; and the difference between “Deaf” and “deaf,” which is significant in how exhibitors and distributors might want to engage with these communities, as well as  difference between captions, subtitles, descriptive subtitles and audio description. David explained how for D/deaf audiences, descriptive subtitles are preferred. The presence of descriptive subtitles makes the film entirely accessible for D/deaf audiences, as they would be experiencing a complete version of the film, not different from what hearing audiences would be watching. 

The audience heard more about  Deaf Conversations About Cinema programme in Bristol, a monthly screening of mainstream films which are entirely accessible to D/deaf audiences, with BSL introductions and DS throughout the film, with post screening discussions, all in BSL. This is a clear demonstration that there is an appetite for BSL & DS screenings, which can be easily implemented. 

For the benefit of cinemas, David summarised the key factors that can make screenings feel less accessible, with captions and subitles and the variations of these being key In the case of foreign language films for example, films may already have subtitles, however they won’t be descriptive subtitles, so a lot of the nuance of diegetic sounds and dialogue will be overlooked. In order for this change to happen though, this needs to come from distributors.

Through research between the ICO and Film Audience Network, Duncan then summarised how best to engage deaf audiences. He explained the benefits of getting get a good D/deaf friendly programme and marketing  it well, as well as reaching out to members of the Deaf community and working alongside them to work out how to make accessible provisions for the audiences. Attendees were shown a video of BSL that ushers and front of house staff could use to speak to customers (such as “welcome” and “ticket please”) and were given a short tutorial on BSL to try it out. Improved screening times and set weekly or monthly slots for DS films are also ways to make advances towards a more D/deaf accessible venue.