[Conveniently avoiding saying the same thing about signed access? Deaf don't need signed access to the theatre at all, what there is is lost because the Deaf audience only watch the interpreters NOT the cast.]
As someone who was born deaf and is the daughter of an actress, it might be natural to assume that I would be the first cheerleader for the charity Stagetext’s campaign to make arts events more accessible to the hearing-impaired by offering subtitles for theatre performances.
After all, I watch television with subtitles so as not to have to elbow my husband every five minutes to ask him what’s going on. There are occasional cinema screenings of new releases with subtitles, which I’d love to benefit from but they’re always shown at 10.30am on a Tuesday when I’m working (but the deaf OAPs, presumably, are not).
Nevertheless, I hesitate.
It’s not that I’m not in favour of improved accessibility; it’s that I don’t think Stagetext’s solution – compulsory subtitles for all theatre performances, as well as spoken word events at museums and galleries – is the right one. When it comes down to it, subtitles are annoying – a distraction from the action on a screen or stage, and I don’t think that performers or audiences should be subjected to that. Particularly when the vast majority of any audience can hear the actors or speakers perfectly well.
Subtitles for occasional performances – yes please. Encouraging theatres to open conversation with their disabled or disadvantaged audience members about how to improve their experience – absolutely. But no to a “one size fits all” solution.