What about the Emotional Impact when Captions Disappear?

Charlotte Hyde: What about the emotional impact when subtitles disappear?

I think I speak for every deaf person when I say I love captions. The events of the past month have only made me appreciate them more. 

I think enough has been said about the logistics of what happened with Red Bee Media, along with the fact that people who rely on subtitles lost access to a huge number of television programs.

I’m not sure much has been said about the emotional impacts. 

I still persevered with Bake Off sans subtitles, even though most of the contestants sounded like they were speaking gibberish to me.

I was too afraid of missing out; we already watch it a day later as a family, so I didn’t want to chance upon any more spoilers than usual.

A member of my family interpreted some of it when prompted, but I made do with the rest. 

Lipreading people on television is hard. It isn’t like real life where you can ask the other person to repeat or change a word.

The camera would often cut away to a different person at the exact moment I had gathered half of what had been said, giving me no time to figure out the other half. That process repeated itself until the programme finished. 

The judges also often had their hands in front of their mouths when giving feedback to the contestants. This isn’t real life; I can’t ask them to move their hand away so I can lipread. It was often at these moments when I had to ask my family what had been said. 

Bake Off is a reality show, so contestants will make remarks in passing, or under their breath. Even with the clip-on mics, the audio is unclear. Sometimes I wasn’t certain that anything has been said, and it was only by seeing another contestant react that I could be sure. 

Naturally, I was relieved when the subtitles on GBBO were fixed, and this inaccessible nightmare could end. However, the impact of this experience has been a lingering one. 

I think we’ve all been in inaccessible situations before. Frankly, I’m used to it. But captions on mainstream telly were certainly something I took for granted. They were a constant.

Now I’m more afraid than ever that the accessibility initiatives I rely on could be quickly taken away from me. I’ve become even less trustworthy of institutions that promise to provide an accessible experience. 

This fear and lack of trust has exacerbated my already prevalent deaf anxiety. I’ve started to worry that my deafness is showing ‘too much’; that I should start to act as hearing as I possibly can again.

I haven’t asked for things to be repeated in class because I’m worried it will draw too much attention to me. This week I was on a field trip with uni and I refused the use of my Roger Pen in a new environment, despite the reassurance that it would all be fine by my lecturer. I was too scared of sticking out as the ‘deaf girl’, so I made do. 

With time, I’ll find my confidence again. I’ll be okay. But the captions situation has been such a knock, and it was only after a bit of thinking that I realised where my increased anxiety was stemming from. 

I hope we never have to be in this situation again. I hope that Red Bee Media puts backups in place for the next time something like this happens. I hope that other channels have been watching the fallout from this and have taken notes. 

Above all, I hope this has been a learning moment for people who are hesitant or averse to subtitled media. Maybe we’ll have some new supporters of Liam O’Dell’s #CCMeIn campaign in the future?