Sorry for the radio silence recently, I’ve had WordPress/LiveWriter password issues. But I persevered today and got it sorted.

The reason? I feel the need to write quite desperately. I needed to get across why it mattered so much, that Deaf people were so upset by Radio 1 DJ/presenter Sara Cox’s tweets on Tuesday evening.

I’ve been quite upset at some of the lashings that the Deaf community have had with regards our outrage over the matter. I need to talk about it, and justify why we had to say something.

For reference, it started off with the following three tweets on Twitter by @sarajcox:

How daft is this? I’m on a date at flickrs (with ben, obvs, or otherwise I’d be more discreet)&bridesaids is gonna have English subtitles

Followed by:

I morphed momentarily into my dad & asked if we got any money off cos of the subtitles. #youcantakethegirlouttabolton

and:

If I was wearing my specs I could’ve just put a thin strip of black gaffer tape across bottom of the lenses to block out of the subtitles

Well, the reaction was severe. Within minutes of this tweet there was an uproar from Sara’s Deaf followers and in turn it was retweeted to the attention of those who don’t. Within an hour there was a barrage of tweets defending the point of subtitled films storming Sara’s way.

So why did it provoke such a response?

Before I go on, a disclaimer: It is clear that Sara’s tweet wasn’t malicious. It is clear that her tweet wasn’t intended to offend. But unfortunately, even if the intention wasn’t there, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t capable of doing just that.

I think the word “offend” is actually quite a strong word in this case, but it’s hard to think of a better word. What the tweets did, was make a lot of people very cross.

Deaf people have had to work very hard for years to get access to films at the cinema. Thanks to the work of the people who run the ruddy marvellous website www.yourlocalcinema.com, we are very slowly, starting to gain speed on access to see the latest movies on the big screen and This.Is.Big. It’s a start, a glimmer of hope that access in ANYTHING can happen one day soon.

It’s only the cinema, you may think. Just get the DVD! The cinema isn’t that big a deal surely?

Well why shouldn’t it be? It is! Why shouldn’t Deaf people enjoy going to the cinema as much as the next person? We are entitled to the same of life’s little pleasures as everybody else. Going to the cinema is an activity that many people take for granted. A hearing person with normal eyesight can decide at the spur of the moment to pop to the cinema to grab a flick, partake in some popcorn consumption, make an evening of it without a second thought. What film would you like to see? The new Harry Potter? Absolutely, shall we go tonight? It’s on at our local screen.

For a Deaf person, or someone with a sight disability, it’s not that simple. Being able to go to the cinema depends on many factors. These include not only whether the film is subtitled (or Audio Described for the Blind), but where and when it is subtitled. If it’s not at your local cinema, you have to try the other cinemas within an x mile raidus. I’ve been known to travel for an hour, just for a subtitled film I really wanted to see, that was on at a time that I could attend. On top of subtitled films being so rare anyway, too many of those that are shown are on in the middle of a weekday, or late on a Sunday night. Not ideal in the slightest, for full time workers – and believe me, far more Deaf people work than don’t. 

Subtitled films can’t be an inconvenience to the cinema after all – they survive on the swarms of Hearing people that attend and fill their screens, to make their money. It’s a catch 22, after all there aren’t as many deaf people in my home town than hearing people so what can they do? Show a film that deaf people can watch at a reasonable hour, lose a potential full cinema’s ticket sales; so they go with what they trust will bring in the spending. As a result, Deaf people get little chance to see films at the cinema. They are so few and far between and those that are shown, are hard to fit around normal day to day life.

Which is why, when a hearing person complains of the “inconvenience” of having subtitles at their showing, when they could go to ANY other showing, on ANY other day of ANY other film, it’s insulting. It’s an inconvenience to you on this one occasion – it’s an inconvenience to Deaf people Every Single Time.

Sure, if you don’t need subtitles, perhaps it’s irritating to have them, but the moral of this story is don’t shout out about it. Deaf people struggle enough to get the same rights and access as Hearing people, to hear about inconveniences that quite frankly appear minor to us – at least you can still hear the film whether it’s subtitled or not after all.

What angered me most, was not the first tweet as such, but the fact she had asked for money off the film, due to it having subtitles and then the trivialising of the issue with the glasses and gaffer tape comment. It was the implication that the subtitles, which subsequently are an absolute LIFELINE for Deaf people (and not just in the cinema), something that we cannot cope without; were such an inconvenience, that she felt she deserved money off as a result. And then onto making a joke, to “cope” with such inconvenience; can you see why we were so upset about it?

To add insult to injury, what didn’t help Sara, were her follow up tweets once she came out:

For all you gobshites we checked online & it didn’t mention it, the guy said it was a last minute thing from head office. Night.

10 or so minutes later:

Crikey come out of cinema to lots of severe tellings off from very cross people. Sorry my random musings might sometimes not be thought thru

By the time I was back on Twitter, the whole lot had been deleted. This caused more grief, as all Deaf people wanted now, was some sort of acknowledgement that the original tweets had been a bit insensitive.

I said myself on twitter that there was no need to delete the last tweet. I may have seen the screen-grabs, but it would have been nice to see it actually on Sara’s page. The fact it was gone, meant the apology didn’t exist anymore.

Although the “Gobshites” term was probably very silly, I am also level headed enough to understand that she wasn’t calling Deaf People in general Gobshites, just those who had put her in this rather overwhelming position. I imagine it was a knee-jerk reaction, but lets be honest, it put her in a less favourable light with the Deaf community. Added to this, the subtitled film would NOT have been a last minute decision by the Head Office – whether she was ill informed, or made that up to defend her position, we don’t know but films are not subtitled last minute – how on earth would Deaf people know of this so to attend? What would be the point in making the decision just before the film was shown?

Subsequently, I then through various networking mediums discovered some kind of apology via the press. It’s something I suppose but I feel the apology should have been made in the same way that started the issue – she should have tweeted it. It feels like it’s been shirted, that it didn’t come from Sara herself. How was using the press, initially one smaller scale paper, going to get the attention of the hundreds of Deaf people using Twitter? Ultimately, it was relied upon that one person with the link, would get retweeted, henceforth using the domino effect to reach everyone else. Hardly taking responsibility.

I think that Sara would have recouped a lot more respect from the Deaf community had she responded in a more calm, immediate way, with a dignified “OK, I got it wrong, I didn’t understand. I’m sorry” or similar. I agree that she shouldn’t be crucified for her words which were, as she apparently put it, careless, but it would be polite to acknowledge what’s happened yes? As a high profile figure with celebrity status, she automatically carries a burden that everything she says could potentially have influence and consequence. This should have been acknowledged.

What saddened me on top of all this, was the response of a few Hearing people. Either via comments on articles eventually in newspapers, or towards Sara’s twitter account herself. It seems that the Deaf community have taken quite a battering as well. It proved to me that there is such a huge lack of understanding of why this had such an effect on the Deaf community. Most comments I had about this saga from Hearing people, other than those who did indeed “get it”, have been kind and well meaning if still not quite getting the point, however it was very hard to read comments saying we were being insensitive, and to “lighten up”. For example, amongst some I read were:

@sarajcox don’t worry about it hen, some people go out of their way to be offended.

and

@sarajcox just ignore! Some people not happy unless they’re on their high horse #superioritycomplex

It sometimes feels that we can’t win, damned if we complain and get a bad reputation as a result or damned if we don’t and see the failure to improve or even decline of services that mean so much to us. All we want to defend is our right to have the same access to everything everyone else has. And going to the cinema is just as important. It’s not everybody’s cuppa, some people can take it or leave it as far as going to the Cinema is concerned but the principle is there – it’s hard work in progress, getting these subtitled films. PLEASE DO NOT DISS IT.

So I’m asking, please don’t defend Sara Cox’s tweets by telling me you don’t think she meant to offend – I worked that out for myself. Perhaps you felt uncomfortable with the battering she was getting – to a small extent, so was I when I saw a tiny minority of tweets heading in her direction had crossed the line – there’s always going to be one or two - I do understand that, but I hope I’ve explained a little bit why it touched such a huge nerve with Deaf people – and why its a valid nerve to have been hit.

From our point of view – what’s just a distraction for you (when you have plenty of other options and we don’t), is the difference between us getting it at all – or not.

So forgive us for being less forgiving of Sara’s complaints – if you do need to talk about it; be at the same time, sensitive to the fact it’s so important to us these subtitles exist somewhere and somehow. SUBTITLES ARE PRECIOUS. A hint of anyone who’s words can influence, dissing them, is going to get a heavy defensive response.

There is an EXCELLENT blog post by iannoon which upon reading, I wonder why on earth I didn’t just post a link to in the first place in stead of write possibly one of the waffly and unconstructed posts I’ve ever written for The Deaf One. But it has been hugely cathartic getting it all out as it’s been bubbling a little in me all week. And my regular readers will know well, how I like to talk. I don’t know if I’ve made sense, I hope I have to some extent. I haven’t directed this post at anyone in particular by the way, so if you’ve commented to me over the last few days about this,  I didn’t have anyone in mind whilst writing. I have many lovely friends who do get it but sometimes I have to explain formally, why there’s more to it than mass hysteria over something that may seem trivial.

I’ll leave you now with the wise words of @Deaf on Twitter which I do think rings true of this whole affair and the readers of some daily newspapers could do with repeating:

“Deaf people need to be judge of whether [its] hurtful or not, it’s their struggle”

So trust us, we were annoyed. And we had reason to be xx

More links here:

How the story unfolded on Twitter in quotes by Pesky People

Where cinemas are letting Deaf people down From the Guardian by Deaf journalist Charlie Swinbourne

Sara Cox’s statement provided by @paulbharrison

Articles that reported the story in no particular order:

The Mirror
The Sun
The Express & Star
The Telegraph