BBC news online still failing deaf children

I decided to conduct a little scientific experiment today. It was very illuminating. But depressing. If you want to try out my experiment, repeat the following steps.

1) Take what is probably the most famous online news website in the world – BBC news online – and insert the word ‘deaf’ into the search engine at the top of the page.

2) On the right hand side column, look for a box on ‘news and sport clips’ and view results for all of the recent online news videos or radio stories about deaf people.

3) See how many of these online clips feature any kind of access for deaf people.

4) Ask colleagues to put on their goggles and observe for your eruptions of fury. From a safe distance, obviously.

The results of my experiment? Well, of the first ten clips that came up:

* Nine were video clips and one was a radio clip.

* Only 2 of the videos had subtitles. A third had signed interpretation but no subtitles (which isn’t much use to deaf people who don’t sign)

* None of the clips, including the radio clip, had any kind of transcript or anything more than a cursory summary of the story.

* Four of the stories featured deaf children, of which two featured NDCS. None of these stories were subtitled or signed.

For an organisation that is paid for the public, including deaf people who don’t get any kind of discount for their TV license, and who have a remit to serve the public, this is pretty outrageous. What makes it worse for me is that I now feel pretty disempowered to be unable to comment on a story that is about deafness and features deaf children. The deaf children in the video clips won’t have a clue what is being said about them.

It’s not as if the technology isn’t there, as google have now proved.

Earlier in the year, I wrote to the BBC about this and was given some assurances that all of the above would soon be a thing of the past. So, as well as disempowered, I now feel like a complete muppet too for believing this.

I feel a very stroppy letter coming on. I’ll let you know how I get on.


5 thoughts on “BBC news online still failing deaf children

  1. Agree, this is wrong. Very wrong. but please don’t uphold Google as a good example when they have passed the buck by providing tools for users to subtitle content and are not actually subtitling the content utself.
    This is a fudge of a solution as we have no idea if the content will be subtitled or to what standards/quality or accuracy. Also as Google is not moderating it so anyone can subtitle anything with anything.

    I would trust that when the BBC do this, they’ll do it properly and not do the cheap Google thing and pass the buck to the users.

    Come on BBC, show Google how subtitling really works.

  2. Yep, Google’s automated solution might be a useful stop-gap and good for raising awareness of subtitling, but it not a proper solution and not good enough for an organisation like the BBC. For example, the deaf children you mention would not benefit much from subtitling that had not been properly cut down to be on screen long enough to suit their lower than average reading age.

    You can see from their public-facing documentation that the BBC knows how to do very good subtitling –


    and have developed the technology to deliver it –


    so it’s therefore only a question of time and money, so I guess it depends on how much noise you make about it –


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