Maltese with hearing disabilities want a fair hearing on film and TV subtitles

The quality of life of people who are dear or hard of hearing would dramatically improve if subtitles were introduced on TV and in cinemas, according to campaigners. This will provide a quantum leap in the quality of life of Maltese with hearing disabilities.

“Think how much general knowledge you get from the TV,” said Alison Vere from the Deaf People Association, which is behind the Subtitles Now campaign launched recently.

“With the exception of the five-minute Deaf News in Maltese sign language, local TV is inaccessible to people who are deaf and those hard of hearing,” she added.

Organized jointly with film culture NGO Kinemastik, Subtitles Now is promoting the introduction of sub-titles on TV and more screenings of subtitled movies in cinemas.

The campaign released a video on Youtube to drive home its message. Watch the video below:

It starts with sound and sub­titles so that all people can understand what is happening, but then the captions disappear and all the dialogue is conducted in sign language.

Eventually the sound of Bob Dylan singing the words “How does it feel?” from Like a Rolling Stone can be heard and a caption asks, “How does it feel to see but not hear?”

Ms Vere said deafness was an invisible disability because it went unseen unless people were communicating in sign language or wearing visible hearing aids.

If their campaign is successful, it would “provide a quantum leap in the quality of life of deaf Maltese and would also help increase deaf literacy.”

Association president Steven Mulvaney visited the UK recently and was amazed to find he had the option of closed caption subtitles on every programme on the TV in his hotel room, available through the push of a button.

The association would like Maltese deaf people to have the same option.

Ms Vere pointed out this would not affect non-deaf people, as closed-captioning means the viewer would control whether or not subtitles appear on their TV using their remote control.

“Subtitles wouldn’t just benefit deaf people but also people learning English, older people who are losing their hearing and people with noisy friends,” she said.

As for cinemas, Ms Vere said sub-titled screenings are generally few and far between.

“We aren’t asking for all films at cinemas to be subtitled but we would at least like the option of attending a subtitled film showing at a reasonable hour,” Ms Vere said.

She also drew attention to a scheme in Rome cinemas to offer subtitle glasses to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.

Since 2010, Eden Cinemas in St Julian’s has screened a subtitled film every few weeks based on availability.

They were originally screened on a Thursday night but have since been moved to Saturday afternoons to make them more accessible, Eden Leisure Group director Simon De Cesare said.

Asked about obstacles to showing more sub-titled films, Mr De Cesare said: “The public is not keen on watching a film with subtitles therefore it would be detrimental to the vast majority of our customers to have subtitled shows on more frequently. And secondly, the take-up to these shows is very low.”

Recently, Hollywood blockbuster Gangster Squad was screened with subtitles at prime time on a Saturday evening at Eden Cinemas but only eight people attended.

“Hopefully this can improve in the future as we are committed to keeping up this initiative,” Mr De Cesare said.

Source: The Times of Malta