King Lear at the National Theatre: An Accessible Family Affair

I was really pleased that I had managed to get tickets for the captioned performance of Sam Mendes’s production of ‘King Lear’ at the National Theatre last week. When I told some of my friends afterwards they couldn’t believe I had been so fortunate as they said it had sold out months ago and they were unable to get tickets.

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I had been looking forward to it for ages and I wanted to find out whether it was really worth all the hype. I’d not seen ‘King Lear’ before at the theatre so after quickly reading up on the synopsis of the plot beforehand I headed off to the theatre with my wife Joanna and my sister to see one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.

Once inside, the theatre was packed out. It was great that we had really good seats in the stalls with perfect views of the two STAGETEXT caption units on either side of the stage. We were also very close to a kind of runway, which ran through the stalls and onto the stage. The runway was used throughout the play to heighten the dramatic tension as the actors either ran along it or gave some of their greatest speeches on it. This seemed to make it appear more immediate somehow, as it was used as a bridge between the audience and the stage.

When the play began, I was struck by how amazing it all looked on the stage. It was set in relatively modern times, and Mendes had designed it to look like a fascist military dictatorship such as Stalin’s Russia or Nazi Germany. Much of the cast was dressed in military uniforms and later in the play King Lear’s knights, who formed his entourage, were all dressed in black SS-style military uniforms, adding to the authoritarian tone of King Lear’s leadership.

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I didn’t find this an easy play to watch because it is so dark, heavy and tragic. At times I felt like I was almost enduring it rather than enjoying it. But the acting was superb and the plot totally gripping despite its dark undertones and capacity to shock people. It is a complex play with two plots running simultaneously, but despite this, I found I could follow the dialogue well through the captions.

Simon Russell Beale, who played the main character King Lear, was absolutely incredible. He managed to play the role very convincingly of a very tough, ruthless pre-Roman King of England at the start, who controlled his subjects and his daughters with an iron fist, but then he turned into a tragic old man, who ends up becoming broken and mad with remorse when he realises how wrong he has been and how unjust he was to his youngest daughter Cordelia. He had banished her to France for not flattering him and telling him how much she loved him (even though she really did) in order to inherit a third of the country, unlike her two sisters, who had insincerely declared their love for him to get their fortune.

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He stumbles and rages around the stage throughout the play like a man possessed. But somehow, it is only when he loses his mind that he suddenly seems more human and compassionate towards others, such as Gloucester’s eldest son Edgar, who was betrayed by his illegitimate brother Edmund and wrongly cast out of his home by his father. He also showed true compassion to Gloucester himself, who has been brutally blinded in his own home by Lear’s evil daughter Regan and her husband Cornwall. It must take incredible experience and training as an actor to portray such a complex character as convincingly as this, and Simon Russell Beale played the role with real depth, conviction and passion.

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The rest of the actors played their roles superbly too, particularly Kate Fleetwood and Hannah Stokely, who played Lear’s cruel and manipulative daughters Goneril and Regan. Goneril is portrayed as a ruthless, ambitious woman, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants and Regan is a cruel, vampish sex kitten, who easily betrays her husband and seduces Edmund behind his back, while also sadistically enjoying watching Gloucester being tortured and having his eyes torn out as punishment for hiding the whereabouts of her father.

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I also thought that Stephen Boxer, who played the Earl of Gloucester, was excellent. I could feel how anguished, distraught and vulnerable he must have felt after he had been blinded so cruelly, when he was wandering around the stage unable to see anything and having to be guided by his son Edgar.

There were many shocking and violent scenes in this production, as well as some scenes of nudity on the stage. At times I saw several elderly people in the audience wince and squirm in their seats uneasily at the more bloody scenes and the nudity. For instance, when Lear bludgeoned his loyal Fool to death for no apparent reason in a bathtub when he was losing his mind, and the final scene containing the murders and suicides of the main characters. But this play is depicting an evil time in history, so I didn’t find the scenes of violence at all gratuitous. They were just true to Shakespeare’s original play, which is bloody and violent, so I felt they were necessary and made the scenes seem more authentic.

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At the end along with the rest of the audience, we gave the actors a well-deserved standing ovation. I am still amazed at how well they can perform such complex, dark Shakespearian tragedies such as this with such conviction and depth of emotion. I really loved this production and so did my wife and sister.

My sister told me afterwards how much she had enjoyed watching a live quality performance such as this. She told me that the captions really helped her too, because even though she could hear the dialogue clearly, she found it really useful to read the captions to follow it better. They help everybody, whether you have a hearing loss or not.

I think STAGETEXT and the National Theatre have done a fantastic job in making this great production so accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. I felt so lucky to have been able to enjoy it with my family on equal terms with everyone else there.

 

 

 

 

Show Me the Subtitles!

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Watching the highlights of the Oscar ceremony last night reminded me of how much I love watching a good film. It was great to see ’12 Years A Slave’ win best picture. I watched a captioned screening of this film recently at the cinema and I thought it was one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

For as long as I can remember I have loved going to the cinema. It has always been an enjoyable, sociable experience for me. I used to go regularly to the cinema with my wife and it was something we both really loved doing together.

But going to the cinema has become really difficult for me since I recently became deafened. I am now profoundly deaf so I rely on watching subtitled films because I can no longer hear the dialogue. So if a particular film being shown is not subtitled I simply cannot watch it. I can see the actors moving their lips but I have no idea what they are saying.

Imagine what it would be like if someone turned the sound off if you are hearing. That is what it feels like for me and other deaf people when there are no subtitles.

Unfortunately, the majority of films shown in UK cinemas are not subtitled. Less than 1% of current new film releases are subtitled in English. Most subtitled films are only shown once or twice a week in most cinemas – usually once on a weekday during the day when a lot of deaf people are at work, and sometimes on a Sunday morning.

It is impossible for a deaf person to go to the cinema on the spur of the moment, like everyone else. Why do we not have more choice? The cinemas say that they don’t show more subtitled films because there is little demand for them. They say that most of their customers are hearing and they don’t require subtitled films. Some of them actually complain that subtitles distract them from their enjoyment of the film, which is why they don’t show them at peak times.

In my experience those hearing people who complain are in the minority. In fact, if there are any complaints, the cinemas should find out why people are complaining. It could be because they have not advertised their subtitled screenings very well beforehand or informed customers that a particular film was going to be subtitled. I think that many people are still not aware of how essential they are to deaf people.

There is clearly a need to inform hearing customers about the importance of subtitled films. Until recently, cinemas used to show a short clip before the main feature explaining the importance of subtitled films to deaf and hard of hearing people. Why don’t cinemas bring this back?

Many deaf and hard of hearing people have to travel long distances to see a subtitled film as they are often not shown at their local multiplex, even in London. We have to check via a website called http://www.yourlocalcinema.com to see the limited listings for the week ahead.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been to the cinema three times at different cinemas across London. Unfortunately, on the first two occasions I wasn’t actually able to watch the film. I ended up having to leave shortly after the film started due to subtitling failures.

On the first occasion, when I went to see ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ at a Cineworld cinema in Central London, only every other line of the subtitles was visible on the screen, so I couldn’t follow enough of the dialogue to watch it. The cinema manager explained to me that this was due to human error and incorrect scaling of the film for the size of the projection screen.

The second time, at my local Odeon cinema in South Woodford on a Sunday, there were no subtitles on the film at all, despite the fact that it was advertised on their website, posters and flyers as ‘Subtitled Sunday’. The cinema manager told me that the distributor had sent the wrong, un-subtitled film to the cinema in error, but nobody had noticed it before they screened it.

On both occasions, I complained to the cinema manager, who apologised, gave me a refund and complimentary vouchers to see a future film. But I left feeling upset and frustrated, since it wouldn’t be easy for me to go and watch the same film again and both cinema trips had been ruined.

Since then, I have discovered from my deaf friends on social media that cinema subtitling failures are much more common than I realised. It happens regularly in cinemas across the country.  In fact, it has happened to nearly every deaf cinema-goer I know.

Some deaf people have told me that they now have a drawer-full of complimentary vouchers from the cinemas. Others have said that even when the films are advertised as subtitled, their local cinema does not switch the subtitles on unless a customer complains about it as they assume there are no deaf customers there. It seems that many UK cinema chains do not take access issues seriously enough.

Sadly, this problem has been known about for a long time. Charlie Swinbourne reported it in ‘The Guardian’ in 2011 and it seems like since then nothing has changed. The trust that many deaf cinema-goers had in watching films at the cinema has gone. Many of them don’t go anymore because they’re worried the subtitles won’t work.

We sit in the dark for half an hour beforehand watching un-subtitled trailers and adverts we cannot follow, praying that the film we have paid to see will be subtitled as advertised. But it feels like a lottery and we can never be sure until we see the first actor open his or her mouth on the big screen and the captions appear without a problem. Until then, we wait with nervous trepidation.

Going to the cinema is not a cheap night out either, so why should it be acceptable for deaf and hard of hearing people to experience so many subtitling failures and poor excuses from the cinemas for their lack of accessibility to us?

Yet someone from Yourlocalcinema.com told me that reported subtitling failures are very rare. I believe that the scale of the problem is massively underestimated because many deaf and hard of hearing people just don’t report it. Often they have communication problems explaining it to the manager and don’t want to complain, as it is too stressful for them. We simply keep accepting the vouchers from the cinema and the problem goes unreported.

When I was complaining about the subtitling failure to the cinema manager of Cineworld recently I saw an elderly hard-of-hearing woman there with her granddaughter. The elderly lady was clearly upset but she was too embarrassed to speak to the manager about it. Her granddaughter had to do it on her behalf. But this subtitling failure had ruined their cinema trip together.

But not every cinema has such a poor track record. Some of them have been excellent. The Curzon Cinema in Soho and the Vue Cinema in Piccadilly, London, for instance, have both been brilliant, with very helpful staff and great access. The London Subtitling Group meets regularly at the Curzon Cinema in Soho to watch subtitled films together in a friendly, relaxed environment. I wish there were more cinemas like this, which champion great access and inclusion for all their customers.

Along with other deaf and hard of hearing cinema fans, I just want to be able to watch my choice of film at the cinema when I want, like everyone else. I don’t want to have it decided for me by people who don’t know what I want to watch and when I want to watch it.

Although this seems an impossible goal at the moment, a lot more could be done to improve access to the cinema for deaf and hard of hearing people if the provision and quality of subtitled films was taken more seriously by more of the cinema chains across the UK. We need to engage with them more to campaign for better access and raise awareness of our needs.

Henry V at the Noel Coward Theatre: Once More Unto the Breach!

I remember seeing the original film version of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ play several years ago before I lost my hearing.  It starred Sir Laurence Olivier in the title role as Henry V and it was made during the Second World War in 1944. This film adaptation was made at a time when public morale in Britain was low due to the devastating effects of the War and enforced austerity.

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It was partly funded by the British government who wanted to boost morale by displaying the patriotism and courage of King Henry V, who led his troops into battle and invaded France on St. Crispin’s Day in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, as part of the Hundred Year’s War against France. The government wanted to recreate the patriotic spirit of Henry V’s time in the British people living in World War II. I remember thinking how rousing Laurence Olivier’s motivational speeches were and they left a lasting impression on me.

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When I saw that STAGETEXT were captioning a performance of the Michael Grandage production currently being shown at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End, at first I was not sure whether I wanted to see it because I thought it would not be the same now if I wouldn’t be able to hear the words spoken in the powerful rousing speeches. But my wife Joanna persuaded me to go with her, as she was really excited about seeing Jude Law playing the leading role.

This is the fifth play in Michael Grandage’s current season at the Noel Coward theatre. We’ve seen his two previous plays, ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ and Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the same theatre, which were both completely different but very good. His plays have brought a new, younger audience to the West End, with more than a quarter of tickets being sold for ten pounds.

When we arrived at the theatre, we had a chat to some of the Directors from STAGETEXT and a few other people we recognised from ‘Coriolanus’ and other captioned performances we’d been to previously. It is great to meet such friendly faces at these captioned events, which makes it really sociable.

The view of the two caption units at either side of the stage was very good from our seats in the circle and being at eye level, I didn’t have to move my head up and down from the stage to the caption units.

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The actors were all in period costumes and the stage set design was in the historic period of the time, unlike the other productions of Shakespeare’s plays that I’ve been to recently, which were all set in modern times. The only actor who wore modern dress was the Chorus, who appeared on the stage throughout the play to narrate the story to the audience dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

The acting was superb and the storyline was dramatically gripping right from the start. Jude Law as King Henry seemed to dominate the stage with his powerful charismatic presence, particularly when he was giving his rousing, inspirational speeches to stir his British troops into battle against the French. Although I couldn’t hear the exact words that he spoke I could feel the power of their meaning as they resonated through his determined body language and confident facial expressions. Reading his rousing speeches via the captions made me more aware of the power and richness of Shakespeare’s language, which seems to transport you to a world where you believe that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.

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When I heard Jude Law speaking the lines of one of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare’s plays when King Henry is persuading his troops to take the city of Harfleur in France like a natural born leader, I could really imagine the powerful impact of these motivational words. It started with “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” and ended with a rousing “Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!”

The plot isn’t all about rousing speeches and displays of patriotic bravery on the battlefields of France though. There were plenty of comedy scenes too, which act as a light-hearted pause among the dramatic storylines.  Jude Law showed off his acting skills by performing these really well and they also revealed the complex, more human side of Henry V. For instance, in the final Act he is trying to woo Princess Katharine, the King of France’s daughter. This scene is hilarious because of the language barrier between them since he cannot speak French and she only speaks very basic broken English, which she has learned from her maid. In this scene Henry comes across as warm, funny and sensitive in his awkward attempts to woo her.

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I thought that Jessie Buckley, the actress who plays Princess Katherine, played her role really well and she was really funny. In fact the rest of the supporting cast were excellent too. Ron Cook the actor who played the alcoholic, mischievous character Pistol was superb, as was Matt Ryan, who played the very funny Welshman Fluellen.

I left the theatre feeling uplifted and really pleased that I had seen this great production. It brought back good memories of why I had enjoyed the original Henry V film with Laurence Olivier in it all those years ago.

The next day I went to hospital to have my cochlear implant assessment. It was quite stressful undergoing all those tests, but hopefully it will all be worth it after I have had the implant and I can start my new life. Going to captioned theatre performances and accessible events like this really help to lift my spirits and build my confidence. That is massively important to me. I am already looking forward to the next one!

Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse: Captioning Brings People Together

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Something really great happened this week, which reminded me of how powerful social media is if it is used in a positive way as a tool to share information and to connect with other people. This is so different to the negative aspects of it, which we hear about a lot these days, when it is used as a tool to threaten, bully or abuse other people online.

A few months ago, I was chatting on the Faceboook group forum called ‘Pardon?  I’m deaf: When will you listen?’ This forum was set up by Suzie Jones and it aims to improve access and communication for deaf and hard of hearing people. Alex, a young woman who is profoundly deaf and lives in Yorkshire, posted a comment that she wanted to see the production of Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’ at the Donmar Warehouse in London, which was going to be captioned by STAGETEXT. She was really disappointed as she couldn’t get tickets for her and her mother to see it as it was sold out. Tom Hiddleston, who was playing the leading role, is her favourite actor and she had been really looking forward to seeing him at this performance.

I posted a reply that I had recently managed to buy two tickets for my wife and I and I asked her if she had tried getting them via the National Theatre’s access list. Theatres often reserve tickets at reduced prices for people with a hearing loss who need to access the captions. A while later I read another post from Alex saying that she was overjoyed that she had managed to get the tickets after all via the access list. She thanked me for signposting her to the access list and she was thrilled that she had managed to get hold of the tickets after all.

I was really pleased for Alex. I arranged to meet her and her mother for dinner near the theatre before the performance. It was all thanks to ‘Pardon’. This is an example of social media done really well and it is great that forums like this exist so that deaf and hard of hearing people can exchange information, find solutions to problems and campaign for better access to events and services. It is also great that I have made a lot of new friends like Alex through ‘Pardon’ and we stay in regular contact.

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The other night when I met Alex and her mother before the play her excitement about seeing Tom Hiddleston was really palpable. It was lovely to meet them both and it turned out to be a really sociable evening. Before the play started we went into the bar for a drink and we met and had a quick chat with Nicholas Burns and Steve Pemberton, two of the actors from the TV series ‘Benidorm’, which Joanna really loves, so that was an unexpected bonus.

Once inside we met some of the people from STAGETEXT, who were chatting to the Donmar’s Artistic Director, Josie Rourke, about captioning. The founders and Chair of STAGETEXT are so passionate about their love of theatre that when they talk about it their passion and enthusiasm is infectious and affects us all. Josie agreed with us that captioning works really well in the theatre. We talked about how it helps everyone understand the play, not just deaf and hard of hearing people because of the old English language used in Shakespeares’ plays, which is easier to follow if you can read it as well as trying to listen to the actors speaking the dialogue.

It was the first time I have ever been to the Donmar. It is really small and intimate, with seating for only 250 people. We had great seats right opposite the caption unit close to the stage and we were sitting amongst lots of other deaf and hard of hearing people of all ages. In fact we were so close to the stage that it almost felt as if we were part of the action, particularly the really gory, bloody parts. Alex said she found it really exciting to watch, especially being in such close proximity to Tom Hiddleston. There was an amazing energy about this production, with the acting appearing raw and electric.

The set design was modern and stark, which added to the raw, dark atmosphere of the play. The actors were dressed in a mixture of traditional robes and modern clothes. Tom played the role of Coriolanus very convincingly, I thought. Coriolanus is a fearless and brave Roman character, who has fought many battles and killed his enemies with a conviction that he has the divine right to win battles and be a leader of his people.

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He was also portrayed as an arrogant and proud character, who refused to listen to the demands of the Roman people. They eventually turned against him and exiled him from Rome because of his lack of sensitivity to their plight and apparent scorn for them. He also refused to listen to the heart-wrenching plea by his mother and his wife not to seek revenge by joining forces with his former enemy Aufidius and trying to win back Rome.

In the end it is his arrogance and pride, which leads to his downfall. Because Aufidius does not trust him anymore he betrays him and murders him brutally. In the final scene after he is murdered he is hung upside down, with blood pouring onto the stage. This is a very powerful and graphic scene, brilliantly acted by Tom Hiddleston.

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Apart from Tom, Deborah Findlay, the actress who played the role of Volumnia, his mother, played her role with real strength of character and emotion. She managed to show us how Coriolanus had been moulded into the man he was because of the way that she had brought him up to believe that there is true honour in fighting, even to your death, while there is no room for cowardice or weakness in a man.

I really enjoyed this performance and thought it was brilliant that Alex was able to see it too with her mother. She came out of the theatre buzzing with excitement about the play and fulfilling her dream to see Tom Hiddleston.

Going to captioned plays like this makes me feel more positive and helps to build my confidence. It is also great to meet friends and make new ones at these performances and events, which are made accessible to us via captioning. When I first lost my hearing I just wanted to stay indoors and retreat into my shell because I found it really difficult to try and socialise and to be able to follow other people’s conversations.

Now I find that going to these events makes me feel more empowered and confident. I noticed that this production was shown nationally in cinemas on 30th January, but unfortunately it wasn’t subtitled so I wouldn’t have been able to watch it anyway. It is a real shame that cinemas do not provide better access to films for deaf and hard of hearing people via subtitling like the theatres do with captioning.

The next evening I went to watch my favourite football team Manchester City thrash Tottenham 5-1 at the match.  I felt really happy to go and watch it with my friends after my experience watching ‘Coriolanus’ the night before. I then ended this week watching a captioned performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ at the Noel Coward theatre in Covent Garden, with Jude Law acting the leading role. I’ll write about that in my next blog post. All in all, it has been a great week!

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My Discovery of Access and Human Rights

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I never really thought about human rights issues or equality before I lost my hearing. I didn’t think these issues affected me personally. My life then revolved around making money, watching football, going to the pub and socialising with my friends and family.

But then I lost most of my hearing and my whole life changed. I suddenly saw things from a different perspective, and many things that I took for granted no longer seemed accessible to me. It wasn’t just the obvious things, like not being able to make a simple phone call anymore, but also things that never would have occurred to me such as not being able to go to the cinema or theatre spontaneously anymore and not being able to go to hospital appointments on my own without taking someone with me. Without them I couldn’t understand what the doctors were saying to me and most of the staff there didn’t have any deaf awareness. Daily problems accessing public services have caused me real stress and frustration.

Through my voluntary work in my local community I became interested in learning more about social care. I did a course in Health & Social Care at the City Lit in London, which was excellent. It was so refreshing because of the good access, which is so important. They provided me with two electronic note-takers in the class to help me follow it and gave me the access I needed. The tutor Rebecca and the electronic note-takers Fiona and Anita were very supportive.  This is an example of equality and inclusion done at its best and I felt equal to the other students in the class.

On the course I learned about equality legislation in social care, which was directly related to my voluntary work. It really opened my eyes to how important it is to understand how equality and access affect our everyday lives. It is also about respecting other people’s values and rights, and how diversity and tolerance of other people’s differences are essential to a better functioning society.

It led me to thinking more about our basic human rights and how they affect us all, so I wanted to learn more. I saw on Twitter that there was a one-day introductory workshop last week on human rights run by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR). My wife called them up to ask about arrangements for communication support for me and they told her that they would arrange an electronic note-taker to support me. I was delighted to hear this and really excited about doing the workshop, as I wouldn’t have been able to do it without this support.

There was a mixture of people on the workshop from different backgrounds, but I was the only deaf person there. It was really interesting to learn about what human rights are, how they are the building blocks of a healthy democracy, what the legislation on human rights is about and how it is enforced on governments, which abuse their powers and deny people their basic human rights throughout the world.

I learned about the evolution of Human Rights legislation since its introduction after the Second World War, how it is applied in practice and how it affects all of us in our everyday lives. It was fascinating to learn about a subject which is so fundamental to our everyday lives, but which I knew very little about before.

I learned that human rights are universal protections for everyone and serve as a safety net for us all. In the UK we are protected by 16 fundamental rights in the Human Rights Act, which cover many different aspects of our lives. Human rights relate to the relationship between the State and individuals. Our society hands power to the government to make decisions for us and human rights are there for when it goes wrong, as it has done many times in history, such as during the Holocaust, and even now with the terrible situation going on in Syria.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that the Human Rights Act relates to all levels of government and public services provided, for instance the police force, local government, the courts and the NHS, as well as voluntary and community sector organisations. The situation becomes complex when private organisations provide a public service, for instance when a local authority hands over the operating of a care home to a private company or a charity or a voluntary organisation provides a public service. The net has been spread wide in the Human Rights Act so that any body or organisation, which delivers public services, is included in it.

The Human Rights Act is meant to act as a floor for basic human rights and freedoms, but it works in conjunction with other UK legislation, which is more detailed and specific, such as the Equality Act 2010, which includes legislation on disability discrimination, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person is put at a substantial disadvantage. All these laws are meant to be compatible with each other and work alongside each other.

I was so glad I did this workshop. The communication support provided by Simon, my electronic note-taker, and the BIHR, made it fully accessible to me so that I felt included and equal to the other people in the class. It made me realise that all too often there are instances where both public and private organisations are not taking their duties and responsibilities towards deaf and disabled people seriously and not providing us with the proper access to services that we need. In some cases they are actually breaching people’s human rights, such as the right to be treated with dignity.

I intend to do more accessible courses and workshops like the ones run by the BIHR. I want to learn more about how equality and human rights issues affect us all. This is particularly relevant to people with a hearing loss, as with any disability. I’d like to see more deaf and hard of hearing people attend these courses with good communication support. You learn a lot from them and they make you feel much more empowered and aware of your access and equality rights in an inclusive society. 

You can find out more about the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and their training courses via their website http://www.bihr.org.uk and follow them on Twitter via @BIHRhumanrights

 

Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom: Access and Equality at the Cinema

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I really wanted to go and see the new film about Nelson Mandela called ‘Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ ever since I first heard about it a few weeks ago. But it proved to be a real challenge trying to find a subtitled show of it that my wife and I could go and see together this weekend.

Last week I looked on the website http://www.yourlocalcinema.com and saw that most of the shows in London were on weekdays at inconvenient times during the day when we wouldn’t be able to attend, especially as my wife works full-time. In fact, there was only one cinema in London with a subtitled show at the weekend, which was on a Sunday lunchtime at the Cineworld multiplex in Enfield.

I was really disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to watch it at our local multiplex, the Vue cinema at Westfield Stratford, and that I would have to drive for half an hour to Enfield, as it is not accessible on the tube. When I was hearing I could just go and see a film whenever I wanted to and it didn’t require so much effort planning it a week in advance because I wasn’t restricted to only one show a week.

I think it’s ironic that I couldn’t see it at the new big multiplex in Stratford because they only show two subtitled films a week there. This is the home of the Olympics and the Paralympics, where in 2012 millions of people across the world came together and saw how our society was changing into a much more equal and inclusive society to people with a disability.

Now that my choice of watching accessible, subtitled films is so limited, even in a major capital city like London, this makes me even more aware of my hearing loss. If I had the same choices and opportunities to watch an accessible film at the cinema as everyone else, this would make me feel equal and included, whereas now I don’t feel like I am treated equally.

Deaf and hard of hearing people in this country have a really raw deal when it comes to accessibility at the cinema. There should be a greater choice of subtitled films at reasonable times in the evenings and at the weekends.

According to http://www.yourlocalcinema.com, less than 1% of films shown at the cinema are subtitled. They state that there is not a huge audience for subtitled films and that cinema operators need to consider the wishes of all their audience, with some members of the audience finding the subtitles inconvenient. Cinema operators argue that there is just not enough demand for subtitled films and therefore they are unprofitable.

I believe that there is demand for subtitled films at the cinema from deaf and hard of hearing people, who are all paying customers. According to the charity Action on Hearing Loss, 1 in 6 people in the UK currently have a hearing loss, meaning that there are an estimated 10 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If we take a conservative assumption that say 50% of these people would like to go to the cinema if it was accessible to them, that is still an audience of 5 million potential paying customers who would watch subtitled films. With the ageing of the population, there is potential for this number to increase much further.

Instead of only 1% of films shown in the cinema being subtitled, I think this should be increased to 10%. I am sure that if there were a greater choice of subtitled films shown at more convenient times, more deaf and hard of hearing people would go there more often.

Going to the cinema is not cheap, particularly in Central London, so the cost of the ticket may be another barrier to many people. Perhaps the cinema operators could consider introducing special ‘access’ tickets at reduced rates to attract more people, like the theatres do for deaf and hard of hearing people attending captioned performances, which are very popular.

Becoming a member of a film group such as the Subtitled Cinema Group London or forming your own subtitled group, is another good way to secure tickets to see subtitled films at reduced rates. Recently, I went to see the film ‘Gravity’ at a cinema in Soho with this big group and it was a great sociable gathering where I met new people. I also think people should contact cinema managers directly to ask for more subtitled films at their local cinemas. I’d also recommend using Facebook and Twitter to contact cinema groups directly to ask for better access, as I find using social media like this is very effective.

However, there are plenty of other arguments given by cinema operators about why there is not enough demand for subtitled cinema, which are not directly related to profits. They say that the majority of deaf and hard of hearing people don’t need a film to be subtitled because having a hearing loop is a reasonable adjustment to provide access to them. I think that it depends on your level of hearing loss. They are not suitable for people with a severe to profound hearing loss.

Also, I found that when my hearing was better and I could use a hearing loop, the sound quality of the loop varied greatly from cinema to cinema and the volume of the soundtrack often fluctuated up and down, which I found really frustrating. I think hearing loops can be great if they are working properly and you only have a moderate hearing loss, but they didn’t work well for me personally. Subtitling is much better because it is universal and is accessible to people with all levels of hearing loss.

Another argument against subtitling is that in the future with new technology, there will be no need for open captions on the screen because people will be able to wear personal subtitled glasses, which will show the subtitles inside the individual wearer’s glasses. This means that the person wearing them will be able to see any film at any time with their own personal subtitles. I participated in a recent trial of these glasses at a cinema showing and personally, I did not like them. I found them heavy and irritating. I much prefer to watch a film with subtitles on the screen, which I find easier to watch. I would also feel really self-conscious wearing these glasses in the cinema. Maybe the technology will improve in the future and they will become lighter and easier to wear, but I didn’t like them. I also don’t think they would work if the user had a visual impairment too.

I really enjoyed the film today. It was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. The cinema screen was quite busy, despite the fact that the film was shown on a Sunday lunchtime and it was subtitled. The audience seemed to mainly consist of hearing people and young people. I don’t think anyone was distracted by the subtitles or found them inconvenient.

It was a really powerful and very moving account of Nelson Mandela’s struggle for equality and freedom against the backdrop of a repressive, apartheid regime in South Africa. It is so hard for a film to do justice to the life of Nelson Mandela but it got close and the actor Idris Elba played him excellently. It also showed the very human, vulnerable side of his character and how much fighting for the freedom and equality of his people cost him in terms of losing 27 years of his life in prison and the effect this had on his wife and not seeing his family grow up.

I find it such an enjoyable, sociable experience to go to the cinema with your friends and family and such a shame that I cannot go more often or more spontaneously like I used to. I would like to see large deaf-related charities campaign for better access to subtitled films at the cinema for deaf and hard of hearing people, and cinema operators championing equality and inclusion at their cinemas for anyone with a hearing loss, as with any disability. I also think cinemas should promote accessibility more. I would welcome your views and ideas on this and how we can campaign for better access.

In the words of Nelson Mandela himself “Social equality is the only basis of human happiness”.

Tony Law at the Soho Theatre: Nonsense Made Accessible

Last night for the first time in ages, I really enjoyed myself. I had such a good evening. I laughed more than I have done for a long time. It felt great to be out having fun again with everyone else, without having to pretend that I could hear the jokes when I couldn’t or laughing at the wrong moments.

I went to see the comedian Tony Law’s live stand-up comedy show called ‘Nonsense Overdrive’ at the Soho Theatre with my wife Joanna. I first saw Tony Law’s routine earlier this year at a ‘Stand Up for Labour’ event, which I thought was really funny then, but I missed out a lot on the jokes and his humour because there wasn’t any subtitling at the venue. Last night though, for one night only, there was live subtitling of his act, which is the main reason why I booked it. I was really looking forward to laughing along with the rest of the audience and it being fully accessible to me.

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I must admit, though, that I did wonder beforehand how the stenographer would possibly be able to cope with the real-time subtitling of his crazy and bizarre monologue, which often seems unstructured and completely random. Last night though, the live subtitling on the screen above the stage was brilliant. Claire Hill, the stenographer, managed to keep up with him perfectly in terms of the speed at which he was talking and the accuracy of his bizarre complex language, which went from ‘olden-day’ language (to use his words) to sci-fi gibberish. I have to hand it to her for doing such a brilliant job, as it must have been very difficult.

In fact, Tony incorporated the subtitling as part of his act by testing Claire’s ability to spell his very bizarre, difficult to spell words and to keep up with him, which was hilariously funny to watch. He seemed to be really enjoying it, and Claire rose brilliantly to the challenge, even getting her own back on him sometimes by her skill and speed at transcribing his often unintelligible nonsense brilliantly.

When he appeared on the stage in this basement comedy venue, I knew immediately that we were in for a pretty crazy, nonsensical time. With his wild unkempt hair and moustache, his mad eyes and old-fashioned breeches, he looked like a cross between a salty old sea dog and an Antarctic explorer from a bygone era. He totally dominated the stage with his presence and larger-than-life personality.

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At first his routine sounded like random nonsense, but then I realised after a while that it was very clever and very funny. He has a great ability to laugh at himself and often he starts off describing a perfectly normal event or concept such as the joys of bringing up small children or observations on trying to fit in among his middle-class neighbours in North London, but he ends up digressing into a bizarre set of surreal thoughts and circumstances, which only his unique, crazy mind would be capable of inventing.

For instance, he described the panic and feelings of inadequacy he experienced at being invited as a guest at a posh middle-class dinner party in North London. There then followed a description of a hilariously crazy sequence of events when he went to the bathroom at his hosts’ house and couldn’t find the toilet roll. He ended up being rescued and whisked off into outer space by his invented cartoon characters, ‘Space Bear’ and ‘Owl Cat’. The story was so ridiculously absurd, but I couldn’t help laughing along with the rest of the audience, as the way he described it was so colourful and ridiculous.  It was kind of like the famous toilet scene from ‘Trainspotting’ suddenly turning into a scene from ‘Star Wars’.

At the end of his routine Tony got a few members of the audience to act out a scene with his ‘Space Bear’ and ‘Owl Cat’ puppets on-stage, which was hysterical and ludicrous at the same time. It was so funny to watch him running across the stage with his puppets and mad facial expressions. He really seemed to be enjoying himself in a mischievous kind of way, and the feeling was contagious.

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Although I couldn’t make them out myself apart from through the subtitling, my wife told me that he also has this brilliant, unique ability to put on different accents, as well as using bizarre language, ranging from a broad Cockney accent to posh North London middle class, Canadian, Viking and a racist 1970s South African Afrikaans voice. He described how you needed to put on at least three different accents to survive on the way to the tube just in case you get into trouble. At times during the routine, it seemed as if he didn’t know where his mind would take him next and if there was any meaning or logic to what he was telling us. I guess it adds to the element of surprise and unpredictability but it also means that his ramblings end up taking his audience to some bizarre places conjured up by his random, crazy mind.

I really enjoyed watching this performance last night. It was such good fun and Tony was like a breath of fresh air. What really made it for me was being able to follow Tony’s routine along with the rest of the audience, without feeling excluded and missing out on the jokes.  This was only made possible through the brilliant live subtitling and access provided by Soho Theatre. I loved it when he made the subtitling part of his act by playfully testing how fast and accurately the stenographer could keep up with him on the screen.  I only wish that more live stand-up comedy events like this could have subtitling to increase access for other deaf and hard of hearing people, as it is the first time I’ve seen it used at an event like this. I’m now really looking forward to seeing the next one there in January.

I’m going to have my first assessment for a cochlear implant on Friday, so at least this has now put me in a good mood for being put in the scanner. I still have a big smile on my face when I think about it now!

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