BBC’s online video content: where are the subtitles?

It doesn’t take much to turn me into an angry deaf man, but to do it in super-speedy-time, all you need to do is say these three words:

Online video content.

By which I mean those little videos snips that you can now watch online on many news websites. Technology is amazing. Yet not quite so amazing that any of these websites launched their online video content without working out how deaf people were going to access it and actually putting it into place before they launched it. I very very rarely see any online video content with subtitles even though the technology to do this now seems to be out there. And what makes me doubly annoyed is that there is often no written content to accompany it, like a transcript or a summary.

I’ve been feeling a bit disgruntled about this for a while but yesterday I saw a video piece on the BBC online news website featuring some deaf children and cochlear implants. Without subtitles! Or any written content!

To put it in other words, there is a very good chance that the deaf children featured in the story would not have been able to understand what was being said about them.

I also understand that at the end of the piece that the reporter suggests that cochlear implants are controversial with “sign language users”. Well, if a deaf person wanted to question this or clarify this, the lack of subtitles means that the BBC has effectively denied a right of reply.

I personally think it’s outrageous and incredible that the people who put this on the website didn’t realise this, or if they did, put it on without a transcript. And it’s also really disappointing because the BBC does have a really good story to tell on access. They’re the first channel to subtitle everything on TV on their main seven channels. Their producers have really made an effort to engage with deaf children and to understand their needs. And they do seem committed to working out a solution to providing subtitles on online content.

But clearly there is still some way to go. And someone needs to have a word with the people who put this video on.


Disgruntled viewer from Bermondsey, London

PS. At the time of writing, there were still no subtitles or written transcript online so if you want to complain about this, you can do so here.


Bong! Exciting news from the BBC…

When I was a young deaf child growing up (I won’t tell you what decade – I feel old enough as it is), very few programmes were subtitled and my family didn’t get a subtitled TV until I was in my teens. I would still try and watch TV but most of the time, I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. Why was everyone so miserable in Eastenders, for example?

Why is she so miserable?

A complete mystery. Anyway, it meant that I would have to pester my family to ask them what was going on, that I didn’t know really what was happening in the news and that I couldn’t talk to my hearing friends in the playground about what was on the telly last night. In short, I felt a bit excluded from what was going on.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon and I was listening to Mark Thompson, the Director General for the BBC, confirm at a House of Commons reception that there would be 100% subtitling on all of its 7 main channels! Amazing. And something that will make a huge difference to lots of deaf children growing up today.

The reception was organised by NDCS and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf to congratulate the BBC. And to call for more action! We’re an ungrateful bunch, aren’t we?

So what do we want? First of all, subtitles are really important and we want other broadcasters to up their game and move towards 100% subtitling. But at the same time, deaf children are a diverse bunch of people and subtitles alone won’t ensure that TV is genuinely accessible for deaf children. So we’re calling for:

* More signing on programmes for deaf children. Some programmes, like the Hollyoaks omnibus are signed which is fine. But deaf children want to see sign langauge coming from the presenters or characters in the programme – not from an interpreter in the tiny corner on the screen…

* More deaf role models on TV. Lots of deaf children never meet other deaf people. Who are they going to look up to? We have Ben on Eastenders but someone suggested to me the other day that he was a bit of a “geek”! Where are the whole range of positive deaf role models living normal lives and being a success on our screens?

* A greater awareness by TV producers of the needs of deaf children. For example, producers need to think about making their shows more visually orientated for young deaf children. NDCS has done a booklet with CBBC that will help their producers meet this challenge.

At the event, we brought along some deaf children from Mary Hare and Heathlands schools because we wanted MPs and the BBC to hear directly from deaf children themselves what needs to change. The children were absolutely fantastic. They were fearless, relentless and determined in going up to MPs to tell them exactly what they thought. They were definitely the stars of the day. In fact, they were so good, I began to get paranoid they were after my job of campaigns officer…

So, all in all, a great day out and a big step forward. Now all deaf children can see that everyone in Eastenders is miserable for no good reason!

PS If you want to support our campaign for accessible TV for deaf children, you can write to your MP. Our website makes it quick and easy for you to do this and you don’t even need to know who your MP is.


OK, so maybe my job isn’t quite as sinister and shadowy as I made out in my last post. In fact, I work in a normal office near Barbican, London with a desk that’s overflowing with papers, and yellow post-it notes all over the place warning me of imminent deadlines. Oh, and my chair’s wonky too.

So what does a campaigns officer do? At the risk of sounding like someone who doesn’t know what they do (ahem!), I sometimes find it hard to put into simple words what my job involves. At the basic level, my job is to make change happen. I work with my colleagues to try and influence and persuade other key decision-makers that there is a problem that we need to solve. Those key decision-makers can be anywhere – in a local authority, members of parliament, in a Government department or the big man himself in No.10 Downing Street.

How do I persuade them to do something about it? Campaigners use a variety of tools ranging from a quiet word in someone’s ear to arranging big noisy public rallies. One tool that I do a lot of work on is trying to empower our members to take action themselves so that people who are concerned about issues facing deaf children can speak together with a powerful loud voice that decision makers can’t ignore.

I’ll try to give more examples of our campaign work in future blog posts. But I’ll leave you with something that my friends sometimes joke about – that my job essentially is to be an “ANGRY DEAF PERSON!”, fuming at my desk over the problems facing deaf children, and grown-ups like me. It was meant as a joke but I think, like all good jokes, there does unfortunately appear to be an element of truth to it…

Next week, I’ll tell you about some exciting news about the BBC. In the meantime, got any questions? Or know of any local anger management classes? I’ll try and come back to any comments you have in a future posting.

A very angry person...