Deaf Awareness Training for Cinema Staff Report

Hello in BSL Credit jen collins Flickr

Earlier this month, the ICO ran a free one day Deaf awareness training course that gave cinema staff the opportunity to understand the needs of Deaf audiences and helped them to think about how to make their venues more accessible and comfortable for them, as well as programme and market to them.

The training was geared towards staff from independent cinemas who have an interest in building Deaf audiences, from senior programmers and marketing managers to duty managers and front of house staff.

The training was run at various venues around the country but took place at HOME Manchester on 8th February 2017. Rebecca Stephenson, Marketing & Communications Officer at HOME, shares what she learnt as a participant:

General awareness

  • The term deaf covers the whole spectrum from ‘profoundly deaf’ (incapable of hearing anything at all) to ‘hearing impaired/ hard of hearing’ (can hear some sound, but is usually muffled/ distorted).
  • Not every deaf person is born deaf. Hearing loss can happen for a variety of reasons including ageing, illness and accident.
  • Some hearing loss can potentially be improved with the use of a hearing aid or cochlear implant, but hearing cannot be completely restored.
  • You may see the word deaf also written as D/deaf or d/Deaf. In this case, the lowercase d refers to those who are ‘culturally hearing’, and the capital D refers to those who are ‘culturally Deaf’. An explanation of this:

Culturally Hearing

People who are born hearing and become deaf later in life, are physically deaf, but ‘culturally hearing’. They most likely grew up speaking a spoken language, using the telephone, the TV, the radio. They think, speak, read, write and base their opinions on the world they knew before they became deaf. Culturally hearing people rarely learn a signed language.

Culturally Deaf
People who are born into the Deaf community, and whose first native language is a signed language, not a spoken one, are ‘culturally Deaf’. Most culturally Deaf people are physically deaf as well, either born deaf or became deaf at a very young age, and their first language is a signed language. Culturally deaf people view signed languages as different languages to English in the same way French, German and Spanish are.

It is worth noting that some culturally deaf people are hearing people born into all-deaf families, and even though they can hear and speak a spoken language, their first language was a signed language. Their view of the world is from the Deaf perspective. They are ‘physically hearing’ but ‘culturally-deaf’.

  • Culturally deaf people often struggle with written English, as learning to read usually relies on being able to hear spoken English.
  • Around 43% of deaf children underperform in school, and a large percentage of deaf people in general experience social and mental health problems due to feelings of isolation, depression and difficulty communicating with others.

Deafness and Cultural Venues

  • Among the group attending the training (from various different cinema venues), a large number reported feedback from deaf customers including: difficulty making themselves understood when buying tickets, hearing loops not working/ not being switched on, subtitles not appearing on films advertised as CS, and not feeling comfortable enough to seek help from an usher as it would mean disturbing the rest of the audience/ drawing a lot of attention to themselves.
  • The group also reported staff struggling to identify when a customer is deaf (it isn’t always obvious) and feeling awkward asking deaf customers to repeat themselves if they are struggling to understand their speech.
  • Cinema hearing loops often have ‘dead spots’ meaning if you sit in certain places in the auditorium, it doesn’t work. They can often also pick up sound from fans, projectors, the screen and other customers.
  • Caption subtitles tend only to display the dialogue as per foreign language films. Few films are made with ‘descriptive’ subtitles (those that describe in writing not only the dialogue, but sounds that are important to the plot and can’t be seen visually i.e. glass breaking or an explosion off screen, music playing etc).

Some Ideas (from easy, quick and cheap to more costly/ time consuming!)

  • Revisit the static pages (i.e. the general venue information/ access pages) on your website and check them for short sentences and plain English (helpful to those who struggle with written English and common phrases in speech/ hearing culture that may not otherwise make sense).
  • Review future print, emails – especially access emails – and venue signage for short sentences and plain English.
  • Projectionists double checking hearing loops are switched on before each screening and ushers being aware of which screenings should have subtitles so they can alert a projectionist if they don’t appear (Would negate deaf customers having to leave the film/disturb others/ feel embarrassed to seek help).
  • Commission a short video of BSL interpretation for the static pages on the website.
  • Could look at providing more access-friendly digital content.
  • Could provide BSL interpretation at Q&As/ intros/ post-screening discussions/ workshops as well as for shows.
  • Watershed in Bristol run a regular ‘Conversations About Cinema’ group in their bar which is a free, informal group for discussing films (similar to our post-screening discussions but audience-led). Once a month, they provide a BSL interpreter and run it as ‘Deaf Conversations About Cinema’ following a caption/descriptive subtitled screening.
  • Either dedicate an existing screen or install an ‘access’ screen in the foyer that plays a BSL/ subtitled video on a loop (could even offer voiceover/headphones option for our blind and visually-impaired customers) welcoming the viewer to the venue and explaining key things like where the cinemas/ theatres are, where the toilets are, answers to FAQ etc.
  • Book training for key customer facing staff in basic sign language (we did cover some basic BSL in the session, but would be helpful to cover over more time and across more FOH/ Box Office staff).

Image credit: jen collins/Flickr