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Public backs call to increase access to the arts for deaf audiences

A poll released today reveals the British public are overwhelmingly in favour of increasing captioned and subtitled performances and events for deaf audiences.

According to the poll, which was organised by the arts charity Stagetext, 77% of the British public are in favour of venues offering more captioned performances. The research has also revealed a hidden community of people in the UK that rely on subtitles and captions online and on the TV, with 67% claiming that they sometimes find it difficult to hear what is happening when watching TV or live performances. The results of the poll have prompted calls for more to be done to support people who are deaf, deafened and hard of hearing.

The news comes as the country celebrates Captioning Awareness Week, a campaign which will see theatres, museums and galleries hold captioned and live subtitled events throughout November. Organisers hope the events will improve access, find new audiences and improve people’s experiences of the arts.

Venues include The Lowry in Manchester, where a captioned performance of Dial M for Murder is taking place, and the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, which will be holding a captioned performance of School of Rock. The Royal Shakespeare Company will host caption The Comedy of Errors, which features deaf actor William Grint, at the Barbican Centre in London.

Daniel Jillings, 15, who is deaf and relies on captions and subtitles, said:

Because of captions, I could enjoy lots of the theatre shows that were streamed online during lockdown. Now that theatres are opening again, it’s important that providing captions for shows continues.

Melanie Shape, CEO of Stagetext, added:

These figures prove the demand for captions and that for millions of people, they are a lifeline.

At a live event you can’t adjust the volume and the stress of not following a plot, muffled dialogue and off-stage distraction can put people off attending amazing performances. Having captions at live events ensures the whole family can enjoy a live performance.

A free-to-attend exhibition will also be held at the Barbican, where the first ever captioned theatre performance took place 21 years ago. The exhibition, which runs until 9th January 2022, will explore the history of captioning through the stories of those who made it happen and the people whose lives were changed as a result.

According to Stagetext, nearly one in five (18%) of UK adults are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. However, fewer than 1% are fluent in British Sign Language, meaning captioned performances are vital for the 11 million who want to enjoy the arts like anyone else, says the charity.

The exhibition of Captions Speak Louder at the Barbican Centre will run until 9th January 2022: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/stagetext-captions-speak-louder

To find out more about Captioning Awareness Week, visit: https://www.stagetext.org/caw-get-involved/

Image by Kenneth O’Halloran (Captioned performance of An Ideal Husband at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin)