It’s important that cinemas are welcoming to all audiences, and to ensure the maximum number of people can benefit from watching films in your venue, you may wish to hold screenings with subtitles for the Deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) and audio description, which serve Deaf or hard of hearing and partially sighted or blind audiences respectively.
Subtitles for the Deaf and hard of hearing (SDH)
Also sometimes referred to as HOH (hard of hearing) subtitles, or ‘closed captions’ (CC), these are subtitles specifically intended for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. They are a transcription rather than a translation, so as well as reproducing dialogue, they aim to describe every additional non-dialogue sound available to a hearing audience watching a film, e.g. “(sighs)” or “(door creaks)” and song lyrics. These subtitles are shown on-screen in specially advertised screenings.
It’s worth bearing in mind that in part due to streaming films online with the option to view them with subtitles, audiences have become much less averse to watching films with subtitles on the big screen than they used to be. Even if your audience members haven’t specifically requested subtitled screenings, it’s possible individual audience members – especially older ones – may benefit from them.
Audio description is commentary that aims to describe body language, expressions and movements to blind or partially sighted audience members, thereby offering additional information about the film through sound. Cinemas can equip themselves with a system that delivers audio description through a headset, provided to audience members when they collect their ticket. The audio description runs each time the film is shown and is undetectable to anyone not wearing a headset.
How do I find films with these files and access them?
Films from studio-led distributors (e.g. Universal, Warner Bros.) come with SDH and audio description as standard. Medium-sized distributors may offer them on only bigger titles, while smaller independent distributors may only be able to offer them on films where they have have received funding specifically to produce them.
Usually, DCPs of films with these capabilities will contain all versions of the film and any relevant additional files, but occasionally you will require a specific DCP or KDM, so if you are planning an SDH or audio described screening, ensure you specify this with the distributor when booking.
To check on the availability of files for particular titles, review the Film Distributors’ Association UK film release schedule where distributors often display details on their film listings, identifying the files as below:
- 2Dsc = 2D subtitles/captions for people with hearing loss
- 3Dsc = 3D subtitles/captions for people with hearing loss
- AD = Audio description for people with sight loss
Upcoming cinema screenings of films with SDH and audio description available across the UK and Ireland are advertised and promoted by Your Local Cinema, a website funded to disseminate this information to the public.
Your Local Cinema also offers a regularly updated online database of upcoming and past releases available with SDH and audio description.
If information on a particular film isn’t yet available via the FDA schedule or Your Local Cinema, contact its distributor to check if they plan to create the files.
If you’re not screening from DCP but rather from Blu-ray or DVD, you can still run screenings with SDH or audio description.
Your Local Cinema lists films on disc available with audio description here (recent/new releases at the top; scroll down for a more extensive list).
Most UK Blu-rays and DVDs offer English subtitles displaying dialogue; so for SDH screenings from disc, check with the film’s distributor that the copy they’re sending you definitely has SDH and not merely English subtitles available. Often you’ll be screening from your own copy, in which case it should state whether the film has SDH (or ‘closed captions’) on the back of the case.
Further reading –ICO resources
- Developing Deaf audiences for film – Our full downloadable guide with further advice on all aspects of how to serve Deaf and hard of hearing audiences; including information on marketing, audience development, improving your front of house set-up and overall accessibility for Deaf audiences.
- Developing Visually Impaired audiences toolkit – Our practical guide on how to best serve and effectively attract visually impaired audiences to your cinema.
- How do I make my cinema inclusive and accessible? – Our reference guide for independent cinemas looking to improve their accessibility.
- Blog post: An Equal Experience: Why Descriptive Subtitling Matters
- Blog post: One-inch barrier or a world of cinematic possibilities?
- Blog post: Deaf and Disabled access in film exhibition
- Inclusive Cinema – a UK-wide project developed by the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) and designed to support screen exhibitors in celebrating diversity. Visit their website for data, case studies and how-to guides, and to learn about training and funding opportunities.
- Matchbox Cineclub offer independent subtitling services to UK distributors and exhibitors, often working with film festivals to ensure their screenings are fully accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing audiences.
- Read Cinema For All’s case studies on running non-theatrical subtitled screenings at Liskerrett Community Cinema and 888 Film Club
- British Deaf Association
- Royal National Institute of Blind People