In the brief time between reaching the end of the box office queue and entering the auditorium, she managed to offend thousands of deaf film fans, causing a furore which ended up splashed across the press, including The Telegraph, The Sun and the Evening Standard.
The reason? Her Twitter response to being told the film would be subtitled. Cox said words appearing on the screen was “daft,” and proceeded to ask the box office for a discount for having to put up with subtitles – which deaf people cannot enjoy a film without.
In May, I wrote a Guardian comment piece about the sub-standard service deaf people currently get at the cinemas, including: the fact that the small number of subtitled screenings are nearly always arranged at inconvenient off-peak times; how information on screenings is hard to find; and the shocking reality that until a film begins, deaf people can’t be sure that the subtitles will actually work.
A celebrity complaining about one of the few subtitled screenings (and at a peak time no less) was never going to play out well.
By the time Cox came out of the film, hundreds of deaf people had retweeted her comments and replied in kind. @Shelle02 said she was “dismayed at the ignorance from a public figure,” deaf filmmaker Ted Evans said she’d “royally pissed off hundreds of deaf people,” while @IsabelReid5 reminded her that: “we’ve been trying for YEARS to get subtitles at the cinema! we’re not second rate citizens.”
It was around this point that Cox called the complainers “gobshites,” before, moments later, wising up and tweeting an apology. Before then deleting not only her original comments, but also her apology. Before apologising again. But I digress.
This might sound strange, but rather than demonising Sarah Cox, I think we should thank her. After all, in sharing her ignorance (and it was ignorance – I don’t believe there was any malice to her comments) with a quarter of a million followers on Twitter, she raised an incredible amount of awareness of cinema subtitles – something that most people hardly know exists until they stumble upon a very rare subtitled screening.
Cox won’t have won any praise from her PR adviser, but what she did manage to document to a tee is the knee-jerk way that some people react to the prospect of being mildly inconvenienced by subtitles (just take a look at some of the comments on my article for further evidence).
Disability legislation talks a lot about the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that businesses and organisations should make so that deaf and disabled people can access all manner of services, and participate equally in daily life (that’s the ideal, at least) but what Sarah Cox’s comments show is that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are something that individuals should aspire to make, as well as organisations.
One in six people have some level of deafness, and as more and more young people lose some of their hearing because they’re blitzing their eardrums with MP3 players, what the non-deaf (for now!) need to remember is that today’s inconvenience could easily be tomorrow’s lifeline.
You’ll be pleased to know that Sarah Cox apologised for the comments eventually. Just one problem – she did it on the radio. Here’s a transcript. Looks like she’s still got a bit to learn then.