Read my lips: No Subtitles

An article from Ovi magazine

Here at Ovi magazine we try to champion many causes and issues, bringing attention to the forgotten, the ignored, the downtrodden and the outcast, and there are numerous ways these topics come to our attention. However, it isn’t often that we are directly affected by an issue that, at first, is merely personal irritating, yet you then realise it is massively discriminatory against one group of people; this time it is the deaf.

Whenever my Finnish wife watches a DVD she always has either the English or Finnish subtitles activated. She is not deaf or hard of hearing; she just misses the occasional word perhaps delivered by a strong accent, drowned out by a loud sound effect or it is just garbled too quickly for her to catch. Subtitles have never been an issue for me, but now I am particularly aware of how many DVDs are released without them.

Currently there is no legal obligation in the United Kingdom to provide subtitles on DVDs released in the UK, despite there being 8,945,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in the country. Almost nine million people are being discriminated against through this simple omission on discs and even the DVDs that do offer subtitling for the movie then ignore the extras, such as interviews and commentaries.

Last night we watched a free DVD that came with a magazine, a promotional tactic now regularly employed by many weekend newspapers, and, like them all, the disc didn’t have a subtitle option – of course, we could choose between Dolby 5.0 and Dolby 2.0. Comedy acts, sporting events and concerts rarely receive the subtitle treatment, but there is no reason why such a large potential market is ignored; surely the cost of adding the subtitles will be offset by the increased number of purchases.

In the April/May 2007 edition of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People’s (RNID) magazine One In Seven, the BBC’s Director General Mark Thompson was asked why DVDs that state ‘as seen on the BBC’ are often not subtitled, such as “The Vicar of Dibley” and “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”. He answered that some shows are produced by independent producers who make programmes for the BBC but retain the rights to exploit them afterwards, “We will always encourage independent producers to include subtitles in their DVDs but we can’t oblige them to do so.”

In Finland there are approximately 8,000 registered deaf and they benefit from DVDs coming with basic Finnish subtitles on every disc – in fact, there’s always Finnish, but no English – and the national broadcaster YLE provides a news broadcast with sign language. Sorry to go slightly off-topic, but why isn’t sign language taught in school? There are 70 million deaf people across the globe and sign language crosses all other language barriers – there are 61 million speakers of Italian, so signing could certainly become an alternative global language.

The RNID are currently campaigning to change the law regarding subtitles on DVD releases and the BBC recently promised that all DVDs of future programmes commissioned by the BBC will be subtitled. Until then, I suggest you use this fantastic website to check if a DVD comes with subtitles:

If you want to take further action, then simply click on the link, enter your name and email, and send the pre-filled email to Lavina Carey, the Director General of the British Video Association (BVA).