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  • Writer's pictureDemi Lynch

Subtitles At The Movies: Should This Be The New Norm?

A group of activists is taking Hoyts Cinemas to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, calling for the cinema to incorporate captions in all their movies.

Most cinemas in Australia can provide deaf and hard of hearing patrons with a CaptiView device, a small closed captioning system that can be attached to the user's cup holder.

However, they've been many complaints about this device in the deaf community, including Philip Waters from Deaf Victoria, who described the CaptiView device as "terrible."

"There's lots of tech issues, often the battery's flat, the arm itself after a while tends to sort of fall off so it doesn't hold its position in a way that makes it easy for you to view the small screen and what's happening on the big screen," Waters told the ABC, "the cinema experience isn't accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing." 

Waters is one of the six complainants taking Hoyts Cinemas to court.

He says the group will only be satisfied with the result if Hoyts can agree that 100% of their viewings will have open captions. 

"What we're after is 100% open captions, so the deaf community can feel free to access any session anytime, on the same basis that hearing people do," says Waters, "and that's our starting point."

A spokesperson ​says Hoyts ​"continues to be committed to making the cinema experience accessible to all its guests by providing technologies and services for people with varying mobility, hearing, visual, and neurodiverse needs​."

Sex worker and deaf activist Katia Schwartz recently called out SBS for not including subtitles on their panel discussion show, Insight.

Despite being a guest on the show, she was unable to watch the program due to there being no captions available to her and other deaf viewers.

Schwartz is unsurprisingly a big supporter in this move to include subtitles at the cinemas.

"As a deaf person, the absence of captions in cinemas creates a barrier to enjoying basic popular culture that many non-disabled people take for granted," Schwartz told Kaleidoscope News, "It’s not just about entertainment; it’s about inclusion and equal access to the shared experience of movies with friends and loved ones."

Schwartz says she's often faced "disappointment and humiliation" after going to the movies and finding out the "captions promised were not available."

"Getting a refund doesn’t erase the humiliation of being the only one left out, having to stand up in front of everyone, while they stare," says Schwartz, "I don’t get refunded for the snacks I bought that aren’t appropriate to take with me, the time spent getting ready, or the transport there and back."

The discussion surrounding subtitles in the media is nothing new, in fact in recent years more and more people are using subtitles even if they're not deaf or hard of hearing.

In fact according to Netflix, 40% of users regularly turn on subtitles.

Facebook users also seem to be a fan of captions, Meta found that 85% of all Facebook videos were viewed without the sound on.

A joint study from Verizon and Publicis Media also found that up to 80% of social media users are more likely to finish a video if there's subtitles. 

With many of us already using captions on social media, would it really be that big of a deal to include subtitles at the cinemas? 

"The initiative by deaf advocates in Victoria to ensure captions in all Hoyts Cinemas is not just a matter of convenience; it’s a step towards recognising our right to participate in mainstream cultural activities without barriers," says Schwartz, "we need systemic change to end disabled people being deprioritised; the lack of equality and isolation that myself and many other disabled people face every day needs to be addressed."



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