Transcript of my interview with Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ about subtitle glasses

Two days after the BBC News film about subtitle glasses was shown on TV, I took a short break in between the chaos of wedding planning (!) to speak to BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme. The interview features more of my views on cinema access for deaf people, and what the glasses could offer deaf audiences.

 The transcript is now available on the BBC website, and you can read it by clicking on ‘deaf glasses’ on this page. I’m probably breaking the law in some way by doing this, but I’ve also copy and pasted it below to save you the hassle. Do leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.

TX: 26.08.11 – Deaf Glasses



Now for people who are deaf or have a hearing loss watching films on the big screen can be a frustrating and unsatisfactory experience. Subtitled films are often shown at unsociable times and they can suffer from technical problems. But there could soon be a solution: Sony Digital Cinema has developed special glasses which allow the wearer to see subtitles directly in front of their eyes, even if the film itself isn’t subtitled. Charlie Swinbourne is a journalist, a scriptwriter, he has a hearing loss himself and he’s tested the glasses and I asked him what the problems were for deaf people going to the cinema.


Often when people go to the cinema, when you get to the box office you find that they don’t know whether there’s a subtitled screening happening, even when it’s been sort of flagged up on the internet, the schedules. You can get as far as being in the screen only to find that when the film begins the subtitles don’t appear. The other thing is that subtitled screenings are often at off peak times during the week when people are at work, it’s very rarely in the evening, very rarely at the weekends when you’re most likely to want to go to the cinema. I think that’s what you really want, you want to be able to go whenever you’d like to.


You’ve tried out these new glasses, what are your impressions?


I tried out the glasses last Friday and what you can see looks almost the same as subtitles that are actually burnt into the screen, which is how we usually watch them. It almost seems impossible that they could appear on these little glasses but what you can see when you’re sitting there is very clear and very easy to read.


Do you think the cinemas will take this idea up?


So far one cinema chain in America has ordered thousands of the glasses, so there does seem like there’s a big enthusiasm within cinemas to take them on and hopefully the UK cinemas will feel the same. For some deaf people it’s worth remembering they do prefer to actually have the subtitles burnt into the screen, I don’t think deaf people want those to disappear but what they would love is to have much more opportunity to go whenever they’d like. And I think hopefully the cinemas will realise that there’s a good business reason for doing it as well,  if you provide the glasses you’re likely to sell more tickets in the long run and so it could be that it’s a win, win situation for everybody.


 Now with audio description for visually impaired people the cinemas keep and hand out the headphones, do you think the same model would work for these new glasses?


I think it would work in a very similar way because I think what you’d probably end up doing is deaf people probably need to leave some kind of deposit or something when they pick up the glasses and they would take the glasses away and then return them afterwards. And in some ways it works similarly at the moment for deaf people who use loop headphones – which enhance the volume of what they can hear when they’re in the auditorium at the cinema. Above all what I would really like to see is deaf people given the opportunity to try the glasses, give feedback to the cinema chains, give feedback to the people who’ve developed them because I don’t think it’s something that hearing people should necessarily make the decision on, I think it does need a lot more deaf people to try them. But there’s a massive potential to really give us a chance to have equality with hearing people, which is what we should have.


That’s Charlie Swinbourne and to see those glasses in action and to find out more about them follow the link on our website.



  1. You say thet are clear but will people with impaired vision be able to see them as well as the burnt in subtitles? How will people who are already wearing glasses be able to manage? Will people who do not wear glasses feel uncomfortable wearing them? Hope I will get a chance to try them to make my own judgement and that they are a workable solution.

    1. Hi Martin, with regard to people with visual impairments that’s something I’d also like to find out about. Hopefully when test screenings happen, people with conditions like Ushers will be able to try them out.

      With regard to glasses, they are designed so they can be worn with glasses, they’re also very light so hopefully people who don’t usually wear them would find them comfortable!

      As I said on the radio, the key is that deaf people get to try them out – and say whether we would like them or not.

  2. I think this is fantastic, we shouldn’t be making negative comments about how uncomfortable glasses are going to be, technology is constantly improving and getting smaller and lighter, who remembers how big mobile phones were when they first came out.

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