People with hearing loss deserve equal access to television

We're the charity working for a world where hearing loss doesn't limit or label people, where tinnitus is silenced and where people value and look after their hearing.

One of the many vital aspects to our work is seeking to improve access to television for people with hearing loss.

1. 100% subtitles

The number of programmes available with subtitles has increased substantially over the past thirty years.

However, there are still many programmes that remain inaccessible due to a lack of subtitles or signed interpretation, poor quality subtitles and background noise.

There is a legal requirement for broadcasters to provide subtitles, signing and audio description on their linear channels, where programmes are shown one after the other at specific times.

However, these requirements are dependent upon the channel's profit and audience share.

Therefore, the smaller channels are unlikely to have to provide any access services.

We welcome the BBC and Channel 4's commitment to subtitling 100% of their programmes on linear TV as well as ITV's commitment to 90%.

However, all the other channels' subtitling levels fall well below these.

We want to see 100% subtitling on all channels.

2. Access for on demand

There is also no legal requirement to provide access services on programmes available through video on demand or catch up services.

Therefore, we are calling on the government to extend legislation to require access services on all television programmes, regardless of the platform through which they are delivered.

3. Good quality subtitling

The quality of subtitles can also be an issue, particularly for live television.

Voice recognition software is used to create the subtitles which can lead to delays, misspellings and sometimes completely incomprehensible subtitles.

Last summer, we gathered evidence of the experience people have when using subtitles and have given this to the regulator to inform their review of this issue.

The resulting report 'Getting the Full Picture' is available to download here.

We will continue to work to improve access to television and would urge everyone to complain to the broadcaster when they experience any problems with subtitles.

This will help to encourage the broadcasters to make improvements to their service for people with hearing loss.

For further information on what we are doing, please see our website.

Action on Hearing Loss is the new name for RNID.

Laura Matthews is a Senior Research and Policy Officer at Action on Hearing Loss.

She has worked at the charity for over five years and has published research reports on a wide variety of subjects including audiology services and experiences in employment, as well as subtitles.

She leads on several policy areas including access to services - of which television is one - equality and human rights and relay services.


25 February 2014

I have been trying to contact a society that will help with subtitles on demand. I'm with BT, I'm only partially deaf some things I can hear but not films. I always have subtitles on my ordinary TV, when I can hear I still leave subtitles on and I am surprised at the incorrect or missing parts of speech.

4 November 2013
Robert Hellier

I'd like to ask why in this day and age of modern technology new on-demand boxes do not carry subtitles... meaning deaf people are forced to have full Sky or Virgin TV subcriptons to gain subtitles for on-demand shows. I think this is not fair or being accessible to TV. It's like being back in the 1970's as there were no subtitles then. History tends to have a habit of repeating. I can say that Freesat recorder with on-demand does carry subtitles but only on BBC iPlayer that's it... not much choice for us deaf people. I say for now buy Freeview or Freesat recorder and youview... until something has to change by law. USA have more subtitles on their TV channels than us... why? What's the excuse?

21 January 2014

I have had so much trouble with this problem of subtitles, they're so important for us deaf people to follow this program. Robert is correct when he says the higher priced dub-subscriptions you can get them. Freeview is a lesson all the greedy big companies should follow.
Have you noticed how all these big companies only have telephone line help, I for example cannot use the telephone, you get a recorded message about pressing numbers, then more numbers, and more choice, even hearing people have difficultly with this, but it never changes.

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