Public wants improved access to the arts for deaf audiences

A new poll has found that an overwhelming majority of people want to see venues, galleries and museums do more to support deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audiences. Nearly eight out of ten people (77%) were in favour of venues offering more captioned performances, according to a poll carried by our associates Sapio Research.

The results were released to mark Captioning Awareness Week, a campaign delivered by the arts charity Stagetext in partnership with Campaign Collective, which aims to improve access to the arts for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people.

The poll also revealed some really interesting findings about the number of young people who are seemingly used to having the subtitles on when watching TV and online performances.

Following a surge in the use of captions as performances shifted online, 50% of the general public now have subtitles switched on all the time or some of the time at home. However, that figure rises to around 80% for 18-25 year olds.

As the public return to theatres, museums and live venues, the data shows that the number of captioned performances won’t keep track with demand, especially as only about one per cent of live performances are currently captioned.

Daniel Jillings, 15, who is deaf and relies on captions and subtitles, said:

Because of captions, I could enjoy lots of the theatre shows that were streamed online during lockdown. Now that theatres are opening again, it’s important that providing captions for shows continues.

If more captioning was offered by live venues, a third (31%) of the general public would be more likely to increase their attendance at live shows. While almost a quarter (21%) felt that it should be a legal requirement for venues to make captions or subtitles available.

Melanie Shape, CEO of Stagetext, commented:

We always knew more people use captions than declared needing them, but we are astounded at the scale of use following lockdown. These figures prove the demand for captions and that for millions of people, they are a lifeline.

Captioning Awareness Week this year also marked the 21st anniversary of the first ever captioned theatre performance in the UK, and the start of Stagetext as an organisation. To celebrate, the charity has partnered with the Barbican Centre and Royal Shakespeare Company to host a free-to-attend exhibition called Captions Speak Louder at the Barbican Centre, which runs until 9th January 2022.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre at the Barbican, commented:

We believe that the arts should be accessible to everyone and working with Stagetext allows us to offer our audiences captioned performances at the Barbican.

Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director, added:

We believe that Shakespeare and live theatre are for everyone, and ever since that first performance we have continued to include captioning across our programme as one of the ways we welcome audiences and make sure all can enjoy our work on stage.”


Image: Captioned performance of An Ideal Husband at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin Credit: Kenneth O’Halloran