More than seven out of 10 Londoners (71%) sometimes find it difficult to hear what is happening when watching TV or live performances, according to new research.
But as Captioning Awareness Week begins, the rise of captioned live performances and video calls during lockdown has given people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing hope.
Following a surge in the use of captions as performances shifted online, a third of Londoners (34%) now have captions switched on all the time at home (the highest in the UK) and a further 29% have them on some of the time.
More than one in ten (12%) of all people who don’t have English as their first language also have captions on to help with their understanding of what they are watching.
As the public return to theatres, museums and live venues, data from the charity Stagetext shows that the number of captioned performances won’t keep track with demand.
Pre-lockdown figures revealed that just one per cent of live performances were captioned.
And the new data reveals lockdown has shifted public opinion towards increased captioning for in real life events in the future. More than four out of ten Londoners (41%) said that the number of captioned performances and events was not enough, with 80% saying they are in favour of venues offering more captioned performances.
If more captioning was offered by live venues, 41% of Londoners would be more likely to increase their attendance at live shows. This includes people who would be more likely to take friends or relatives who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing to an event (19%), more likely to go to events themselves (16%) or more likely to arrange a visit for the whole family to a show (20%).
Around 17% of Londoners felt that it should be a legal requirement for venues to make captions or subtitles available.
Meanwhile, among those who are not deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, less than one in five Londoners (18%) found the captions distracting.
Daniel Jillings, 15, who is deaf and relies on captions and subtitles, said: “Because of captions, I could enjoy lots of the theatre shows that were streamed online during lockdown. Now that theatres are opening again, it’s important that providing captions for shows continues. Deaf people like me need captions to access live shows in theatres, so we can understand what is happening on stage. I am studying GCSE drama, so it is crucial for me to be able to access theatres, and captions enable this to happen. If access is ignored, then theatres will lose customers, especially deaf people and the friends and family who normally visit with them.”
Captioning Awareness Week is the annual opportunity to celebrate museums, theatres, galleries, and artists who have been providing captions for their audiences. It is organised by Stagetext, a charity which provides captioning and live subtitling services to theatres and other arts venues to make their activities accessible to people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.
Melanie Shape, CEO of Stagetext, commented: “We always knew more people use captions than declared needing them, but we are astounded at the scale of use following lockdown. These figures prove the demand for captions and that for millions of people, they are a lifeline. Every one of us knows someone who has the TV on that little bit too loud and would benefit from turning on the subtitles.
“At a live event you can’t adjust the volume and the stress of not following a plot, muffled dialogue and off-stage distraction can put people off attending amazing performances. Having captions at live events ensures the whole family can enjoy a live performance.”