New survey on TV subtitles: have your say

Image courtesy of RNID

When I ask deaf young people what their pet peeves are, invariably they mention the quality of subtitles on TV. So I was pretty pleased to see that RNID have commissioned some research to look at what people think about subtitles. And they’re currently asking deaf people to feed in their views to help with their future campaign work on this. It includes some interesting questions about whether it’s more important to have speed or quality when it comes to live subtitles. Where do you stand on the trade off?

I’ve filled it in and taken the opportunity to have my annual whinge about subtitles on the X Factor… Why not have your say and help make a difference?

And if you feel really outraged about particular programmes with rubbish subtitles, there’s some information on NDCS’s website about how to complain to individual broadcasters. Go on, make a fuss, you know you want to…


5 thoughts on “New survey on TV subtitles: have your say

  1. Deaf people have had contacts at TV channels since day one, in my time when we complained the subtitles would serve Serbians better than British, all they did was invite us to the TV centre for free coffee and a walk about, in deference we DID see the subtitlers themselves and saw how difficult their job was, now, you won’t see a person at all, because the increasing use of software is used to translate speech to text, not people. How do you lobby software ? If they stop using it, subtitling will plummet on TV, there aren’t the people, and the cost would be prohibitive to TV channels. I Understand rights issues, but money talks louder ! Perhaps lobby the state to pay for the subtitler training, then, TRY and convince TV to pay for them, the state says no they won’t empower an access law with deeds or cash so…… Why listen or use the RNID ? they jump on any bandwagon, and I can guarantee few if any deaf will work with their survey at all. They will never get the ‘ear’ of deaf people so will not be able to put any significant view from us to anyone.

  2. Hi Ian

    Good to see you’re getting such a positive response from the usual suspects.

    Keep up the good work


  3. There’s one area at least that has made a rapid and widespread improvement with subtitles – video games. Most of the games I play with my kids on computers or games consoles these days have an option to turn subtitles on – and the subtitles are almost always accurate and easy to read. Also, there’s a fantastic website – – that reviews games from a deaf perspective.

  4. I have been waging a private war against tv companies over quantity and quality of subtitling for 10 years and it has been a harrowing experience to say the least. I can’t for the life of me think why I didn’t complain and urge fellow sufferers of complacency to join me in battle via websites such as this before now. I must be a bit dimmer than I thought.
    There are many things that you can do to get your point across and if thousands of us are doing them I’m absolutely certain that we can improve subtitling services very, very quickly.I have been struggling for ten years and hsve come up against such complacency and blatant discrimination that I have gone a tad loopy. This has cost me dearly, in mental health terms,as has losing my hearing. However I do feel that I have been personally responsible for some improvements over the years which makes me believe that, TOGETHER, we could be a force to reckon with, one that the tv companies, politicians, our so called representatives (RNID,Deaf Broadcasting Council(?) etc, advertisers (Advertisers are the key targets-they control the flow of money) daren’t ignore.
    My first point is that if you don’t tell them that you are not happy about the service they won’t do anything to change it, so to paraphrase new labour (they don’t deserve capitals), our manifesto should be three words: COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN!
    First line of attack is via the telephone. Very effective especially if several thousand of us are doing it. I have forced several companies to have their number changed to avoid taking calls from me but they can’t hide for long, it’s usually easy to track them down via google even for a novice pc user like me. However be prepared to be met by firstly, automated labyrynths before you get to speak to a human, then by a human firewall This person falls into one of two spcies: the first will be so obstructve and unhelpful to the point of headbanging, doing thingss like pretending to look up info for you while keeping you waiting for 10 mins(or 105 mins as I suffered once!) and then returning with wholly unsatisfactory answer. The other will be so blindingly stupid as to force you to give up in frustration, perhaps not so stupid eh? You need to push past these points which are usually customer services oriented i.e. completely useless by asking to speak to an executive and assert yourself firmly but politely and very repetitively. You need to get past the footsoldiers to the officer ranks who are generally a bit smarter but wholly unpractised at dealing with disgruntled customers. Unfotunately for me, I am no longer able to use the phone as my hearing loss has progressed so far that a massively amplified phone plus the most powerful hearing aids available on the NHS are no longer enough to allow me to converse. However, for those of us/you who are still able to use it, the phone is a very potent weapon allowing immediate effect whereas email can be (will be) ignored for a while while a crappy answer is formulated. It’s a different matter when your “enemy” has to come up with an answer on the spot.
    As I said earlier ADVERTISERS ARE THE KEY. Again, two categories.
    1)Those who subtitle their adverts.
    2)Those who don’t.
    Call the ones that do, ask to speak to the marketing department. Thank them for doing that to include YOU in their campaign and assure them that because they did, you will buy their wares over a competitors ( you don’t actually have to do that, just tell them that you will.) This will confirm to them that they were right and everybody, especially ad execs, likes to be right. I do. Ask them to help persuade tv companies to sub more programmes, after all, if a prog isn’t subbed, deaf people aren’t going to be seeing the adverts that they paid extra to subtitle because an unsubtitled prog is just wallpaper. We’ll be watching somebody elses’ adverts on a channel with subbed programmes. Simple logic.
    Call the ones that don’t (this needn’t cost much, in both cases if you contact the ones with freefone numbers), let them spend some time trying to sell you stuff, then tell them no because you’re deaf/hoh and the didn’t bother to try to get your attention for a few measly extra pennies.Tell them that you are going to their competitors who subbed their offerings and you’ll spend your MONEY there.
    I have found this effective with several companies who now sub their ads who didn’t before because I opened their eyes for them. The BBC estimate that there are 4 MILLION subtitle users and when you count their families, that means there must be 10 million people in the uk affected by subtitling. One sixth of the population. When faced with figures like that, advertising execs seem to focus on the subject a little better. You need to turn those numbers into pound notes with your words, the’ll listen then.
    Just imagine a mere 1% of that 10 million people calling tv companies and advertisers. 100,000 telephone calls in one week, say. They wouldn’t know what hit them, they’d be scrambling around like headless chickens trying to cope with the demand.
    I cannot express strongly enough how important it is that you remain polite at all times even obsequiously so. There is a saying something like “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. If you are unpleasant or use bad language they will hang up on you, justifiably. This isn’t to say that a fine dusting of sarcasm wouldn’t go amiss but must be used gently to persuade the person you are speaking to that you are no fool and will not be taken for one.
    The other way to communicate your disgruntlement is, of course, via email. Most tv companies have a website with a pro forma compaint system via the “contact us” link or at least an email address for you to write to, as do advertisers.
    There are many points to argue about subtitling but by far the most important is QUANTITY. Point one: We pay exactly the same amount of money to access tv services as hearing people yet receive, at a guesstimate, just 5% of what is available to them. Blind people get a rebate on there licence fee yet they can at least access EVERYTHING including radio and internet services and understand via the sound mostly what is happening in that programme. Radio is of no use to us and tv without subs is of no use at all.We have a strong case for either massive improvement or a substantial rebate/discount on our licence fee and fees for satellite services which compound the problem enormously.
    Point two: Government targets for increasing subtitling are feeble and were set over a decade ago, since when an explosion in technological advances has taken place. Here we are 40 years after the start of subtitling and the relative quantity has hardly improved at all, still around 5%.
    Point three: “If deafness were paraplegia and subtitles were ramps and wide doorways, EVERY SINGLE PROGRAMME would have ramps and wide doors”. We outnumber wheelchair users by something like 6 : 1 but as their disability is visible it shames people into doing things for them. We and and our problems are shut quietly away so we get ignored. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 clause 50 states that all public and private businesses should provide full and equal access to their products and services to disabled people at no extra cost and that the cost to them in providing extra help e.g. ramps for wheelchairs, should not be considered as a factor in structuring there businesses. So far, the only disabled people to fully be considered and catered for are wheelchair users. It is now and has been for several years, illegal to build a public service business and indeed for private employers without wheelchair access, ramps lifts and wide doors. Again this is because their disability is visible and it is considered un-PC to ignore people in wheelchairs. By the same token, public and private tv companies must surely provide us with our metaphorical ramps, lifts and doors so that we can have full and equal access to their products and services i.e. subtitles on everything. We must demand total subtitling for all recorded programmes. Nothing less. We have a right to it and that is where we must stand. Ther is no doubt that we will be forced to compromise so therefore we must make our demands larger so that the compromise will be larger. Simple logic.
    Point four: Most of our so called representatives at such places as the RNID have little real insight into the problem because the don’t employ many deaf people at an executive level and patronise us with manual or menial labour. Every time I’ve asked them how many deaf people they employ, they’ve not been able to give me either a headcount or even a rough percentage. The point being that these people don’t understand because the y don’t have to watch tv the same way as we do and I have asked people at twelve different tv companies,hudreds of times, and the bbc to try to do this for a week i.e. watch the news for example, WITH THE SOUND OFF and with subs on. In all cases they have flatly refused or completely ignored my request. THEY DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

    I’m afraid I must stop at this point but I have many more arguments to make regarding quality of subs e.g. synchronisation (two seconds out can render a programme unwatchable), missing lines of dialogue, subs edited for the subtitlers ease and whimsy or because of time constraints enforced by employers etc. Please feel free to publish my email address and to send me emails if you wish.
    And remember two things, 1: Advertisers are the key; and 2: keep hassling them in large numbers and regularly but politely.

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