Why we should thank Sarah Cox. Possibly.

A couple of weeks ago, the Radio 1 DJ Sarah Cox went to the cinema to see the hit comedy Bridesmaids.

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Well put Charlie – in a way Sara Cox has inadvertantly given fresh impetus to our attempts to raise awareness of this topic.

  2. If we are talking statistics, most agreed the deaf went OTT on the issue, this was NOT news, and there is no increase in our access as a result, and, it gave Ms Cox, exposure that only did her profile good ! More to the point is the fact deaf are NOT supporting accessible cinema in any significant numbers, andf happy enough to wait for the video, we know only cities get titlesd cinema anyway so out in the sticks it will be business as usual, we attend the once yearly titled film with 3 others at 11am in the morning ! (Actually scrub that we have NEVER had titled access here !!!) I can think of an dozen more campaigns of more use frankly. Twitters are not us.

  3. Hi MM. Answers –
    1) No, we’re not talking statistics.
    2) Deaf people do tend to feel offended when they’re called ‘gobshites.’
    3) It didn’t do Ms Cox any good, she got slated in the papers as a result of it.
    4) More deaf people would attend subtitled performances if they received screenings at peak times, that they could rely on, and with decent customer service. Until then, the potential audience can’t be known.
    5) Lots of deaf people, like hearing people, would like to see new releases on the big screen rather than on DVD. If we are watching a lot of DVDs, it’s because the subtitles are more easily accessed and cinemas offer a poor service.
    6) Yes there are more subtitled screenings in cities – but I believe smaller towns should provide them too.
    7) Deaf people have a right to access to entertainment as well as other areas of life. Otherwise, our only social options are going to the pub. We’d like to go to the cinema, theatre, and so on, like anyone else and not be limited to alcohol as a way of feeling entertained.
    8) There’s some pretty good eggs on Twitter, we don’t speak for the whole deaf community, but who does?

  4. These campaigns NEVER consider anyone outside of a city, unsurprising there is scant support outside for it. There is access and there is ACCESS, titled cinema is about number 50 on the list of requirements we need. I don’t buy the rights gig it depends on who is going to use it, regardless of London wittering on about titles, no survey has ever been done as to need for this access or take up as you said yourself. It’s a right let’s have it even if we don’t use it ? Do I feel deprived ? no. You are saying title everything THEN see if it will catch on ? Demand creates. Where it has been done we are talking deaf in single figures attending. You say lots of deaf people well, we have 60-90K of them not withstanding 9 million with other loss, I’ve not seen any campaign from them supported. Twitter is no more a deaf voice than their websites or message boards were. The only people who campaign these days are professional charities, whom the deaf have deserted anyway. I watch DVD’s because (A) It’s cheaper, and (B) It isn’t deprivation to wait 6 weeks to watch a film and (C) It’s downright cheaper too ! (I could suggest some BSL films could carry titles but.. you’d defend me being excluded that way.) 🙂

  5. 1. You don’t live in a city – but you don’t represent all deaf people who live in smaller towns or rural areas. What you mean is – YOU aren’t bothered about cinema subtitles. Fair enough – your choice!
    2. I know lots of deaf people outside London and other major cities who have even less subtitles provision in local cinemas, and would love to see more of the most recent releases on the big screen. Several of them are on the Facebook group mentioned in my Guardian article. Why not check it out? There’s hundreds of members. You say there’s no campaign, but that group is a good example of people supporting a greater provision of access from the grassroots level.
    3. The whole idea of equality legislation is that deaf and disabled people have the right to access the same services as non-deaf and non-disabled people. Cinema access might be 50 on your list, but even if it’s not life and death, it matters. It’s vital in terms of young deaf people being able to enjoy films with their friends, and for deaf people to feel like they can share the same experiences as the rest of society.
    4. I never said everything should be subtitled – but I do believe that deaf people should be able to turn the subtitles on if they’re there. The technology exists, so why not use it? Why should deaf people be treated like second-class citizens?
    5. All the major deaf charities support greater cinema access – and as you admit, there are potentially 9 million people who would benefit from the technology. So it surprises me that you’re so dismissive of it.
    6. I’m glad YOU prefer watching DVDs – it doesn’t mean everyone is happy to!
    7. Sorry… I’d defend you being excluded by not having subtitles on a BSL film? Check out my films – every single one of them is subtitled as well as having BSL in it!

  6. I wonder how far users have travel in their attempts to see a particular subtitled film? My wife and I live ‘in the sticks’ near Peterborough and consulting yourlocalcinema.com we have used cinemas in Milton Keynes, Kettering, Huntingdon, Cambridge and Northampton. Ranging from 15 to 50 miles away these redefine the concept of local!

    Steve

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