kate bohdanowicz writer

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Why cinemas need to be more deaf-friendly

A new Empire cinema has opened in Walthamstow, East London, where I live. After more than a decade without a local picturehouse it’s very exciting and it’s already busy.

I planned to break my duck by watching Paddington with a friend and her small children. My other half Tim wanted to come along too. He’s deaf so obviously we needed a screening with subtitles. The children were excited about going with us (hey, they’re small and easily pleased).

Empire do offer subtitled screenings (as well as audio described and autistic-friendly performances) but these are extremely limited. In order to plan our visit we needed to know when the subtitled films were being shown. Empire tell me they release each week’s screenings on the Tuesday. I asked if they could provide advance information for viewers with special requirements but alas, they don’t do that.

My beef is this. If I wanted to see Paddington three weeks on Thursday, I know it will be screened at Empire Walthamstow. If I want to see a subtitled version of Paddington (of which there may be two a month), I have to check each Tuesday. You can’t forward plan.

In the end I went alone with my friend and her boys. We didn’t know if and when there would be a subtitled Paddington, I wanted to visit the cinema and the boys were available (small children have very busy social lives you know). A friend with an older child said they planned to see the film and they would hold out for a subtitled version and Tim could go along with them.

On Tuesday, Empire released this week’s screenings and, hurrah, there are two subtitled showings of Paddington (Sunday 2pm and Monday 5pm). However, our friend with the child can’t make either one. Who knows when the next one will come along?

I have contacted Empire to discuss this. I can’t give you their response as I haven’t had one. As requested I emailed them via their website - it promises a response within 48 hours - but this went unanswered. The people who handle their Twitter account said they were talking to Walthamstow’s booking officer about it (I heard nothing back) and then suggested I contacted the Press Office. I did and last Thursday they said they’d get back to me. Six days later I’m still waiting.

I’ll tell you a secret. Tim isn’t that bothered about seeing Paddington (he is 42 after all), but it’s the principle. What if I had a deaf child, or a hearing child with a deaf friend, and they wanted to see Paddington together? How can you plan?

If I sign up to Empire’s newsletter, they tell me I can “be the first to hear about new releases and competitions and best of all these are bespoke to you.” If they can do that, surely I can be the first to hear about subtitled screenings as best of all, these are bespoke to me.

Sort it out Empire.





Comments (4)

  1. Wendy:
    Dec 12, 2014 at 01:36 PM

    That's pretty awful - I don't see any reason why Empire can't publish a schedule of sub-titled shows, apart from apathy and lack of interest on their part.

  2. Kate Bohdanowicz:
    Dec 12, 2014 at 01:45 PM

    Hi Wendy

    I agree. Empire has since got back to me but there's no movement on their policy.


  3. David Walker:
    Dec 28, 2014 at 04:59 PM

    Being deaf myself, I have actually "programmed" myself in that when a new film comes out, I just have to wait until the film is on DVD (at a discounted price) or for the film to be on television.
    Perhaps the major deaf charities could start to canvass the owners of cinemas for better accessability. Even if subtitled films are on the same night/day every week, that would be a good start and would help with planning ones social life.

  4. Kate Bohdanowicz:
    Dec 29, 2014 at 09:03 AM

    Hi David

    It's terrible that deaf people and those with hearing loss can't visit the cinema as easily as everyone else.

    I agree - getting deaf charities to campaign cinemas would be a good idea. We need collective action. Empire has been unwilling to listen to me.



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