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Hidden Hard Of Hearing Community Revealed By Lockdown Captioning

As Captioning Awareness Week (#CAW2021) begins, the rise of captioned live performances and video calls during lockdown has given people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing hope.


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Two-thirds (67%) of the public sometimes find it difficult to hear what is happening when watching TV or live performances, according to new research. [1]

But as Captioning Awareness Week (#CAW2021) begins, the rise of captioned live performances and video calls during lockdown has given people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing hope.

Following a surge in the use of captions as performances shifted online, 24% of the general public now have captions switched on all the time at home and a further 26% have them on some of the time. More than one in ten (12%) of people who don’t have English as their first language also have captions on to help with their understanding of what they are watching.

As the public return to theatres, museums and live venues, data from the charity Stagetext shows that the number of captioned performances won’t keep track with demand.

Pre-lockdown figures revealed that just 1% of live performances were captioned. [2]

And the new data reveals lockdown has shifted public opinion towards increased captioning for in real life events in the future. Nearly half (46%) said that the number of captioned performances and events was not enough, with 77% saying they are in favour of venues offering more captioned performances.

If more captioning was offered by live venues, a third (31%) of the general public would be more likely to increase their attendance at live shows. This includes people who would be more likely to take friends or relatives who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing to an event (16%), more likely to go to events themselves (15%) or more likely to arrange a visit for the whole family to a show (14%).

And the public are also more likely to back venues offering such a service with almost half (43%) describing such a service as valuable and almost a third (28%) suggesting these venues deserve more funding from grant giving organisations and the government.

Almost a quarter (21%) felt that it should be a legal requirement for venues to make captions or subtitles available.

Meanwhile, among those who are not deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, just one in five (20%) found the captions distracting.

Daniel Jillings, 15, from Lowestoft in Suffolk, 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. Deaf people like me need captions to access live shows in theatres, so we can understand what is happening on stage. I am studying GCSE drama, so it is crucial for me to be able to access theatres, and captions enable this to happen. If access is ignored, then theatres will lose customers, especially deaf people and the friends and family who normally visit with them.”

Norwich Theatre owns its own caption screens and regularly offers captioned performances and also audio described, British Sign Language and relaxed performances along with the occasional Touch Tours. We are always working with touring companies and producers to encourage and support them with accessible performances as well.

Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre, said: “We are delighted to support Captioning Awareness Week and use this as a way of renewing our commitment to improving inclusivity. We know that live theatre entertains, enriches and inspires people of all ages and backgrounds, and firmly believe that the arts should be accessible to everyone. We include captioning across our programme as one of the ways we welcome audiences and make sure everyone can enjoy extraordinary theatre experiences.”

Captioning Awareness Week is the annual opportunity to celebrate museums, theatres, galleries, and artists who have been providing captions for their audiences. It is organised by Stagetext, a charity which provides captioning and live subtitling services to theatres and other arts venues to make their activities accessible to people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

Click here to see a full list of our accessible performances. 

[1] Sapio research interviewed 2,003 people in October 2021 with the results weighted to be representative of the GB general population. Two-thirds (67%) of the population do not describe themselves as deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.
[2] State of Theatre Access report (2019)