Deafinitely Challenging: The Importance of Subtitles

For a deaf person like me, I don’t need subtitles to hear the groans and roars of zombies, but I do need them when a character is on their deathbed, mumbling their dying words in a faint American accent.

I am – of course – talking about The Walking Dead. On Monday this week, the series kickstarted again and my God, it was a brilliant mid-series premiere. Anyway, rather than talk about the episode, today I want to talk about how important subtitles can be to a deaf/hard of hearing audience.

First of all, my I can describe myself as having a mild/moderate hearing loss, or being ‘hard of hearing’ (I use both interchangeably). This means that I’m fine with most interactions and can speak at a normal level – provided I have my hearing aids in. In terms of TV shows and films, I struggle to hear actors with a very low, grumbly accent, or a foreign accent.

So rather than missing out on parts of a programme, subtitles help. However, cinemas and YouTube channels are two things which don’t appear to be using subtitles (or ‘closed captioning’, in YouTube’s terms). In terms of YouTubers, they think it’s a lot of hard work manually adding subtitles, and cinemas don’t think there’s much of a demand for subtitled film screenings.

Similarly, I know a few hearing people who are annoyed by how distracting subtitles can be. I do appreciate that, but without subtitles, we could only watch the pictures. For example, when I was watching The Walking Dead on Channel 5, there were no subtitles available. Therefore, I would know a character has died, but because I couldn’t hear the dialogue, the death has less of an impact.

But then, when I was finally able to watch the show on FOX with subtitles, and it was so much better. With the text, deaf viewers like me can understand the interactions and it adds more to our connections with a TV show character. A few series later and I finally feel like I have a sense of each character’s personality, which wouldn’t be possible without subtitles. This is how important subtitles are to me. So, whether you’re deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing, please do understand if somebody wants to switch subtitles on.

Do you use subtitles when watching TV shows or movies? Do you watch foreign dramas with translated subtitles? Comment below!



6 thoughts on “Deafinitely Challenging: The Importance of Subtitles

  1. As a youngster I would come home from school sit on the sofa and turn the to up loud. Elder brothers pop in turn sound down and I move closer to the TV until I hear something. Back then in 77 I gained my first analogue aid. As ceefax arrived page 888 was a godsend but still these were not recordable. The advent of digital tv makes subs recordable and every DVD I have bought has subs that surely follow the script. This is a bonus for us. Now with two aids still cannot live without them.


  2. Well said, and well reasoned.

    My subtitles are set on as a matter of course, they have evolved a lot since introduction about three decades ago, when they were in captials and in black or white, making it too shouty and difficult to determine which character were speaking, gradually coming into colour to match the characters and thankfully in lower case.

    Also a earlier gripe that subtitles covered the questions or answers shown in quiz shows like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, now resolved with subtitles shifting to different parts of screen when required. It seems that subtitles are becoming widely used in banks, hospitals or waiting rooms where sounds would be too intrusive. An added bonus, it do helps to improve the literacy rate just by reading the subtitles for those who would not have the time to read a book.

    Lastly, I find that I switch between Freeview to watch sporting events with smaller subtitles fonts as not to obscure the action on screen or Sky with bigger subtitles fonts for more comfortable viewing in the evenings. .


    • Ah, interesting! Thank you for that – it is intriguing to hear how subtitles have evolved over time. I agree, though, it is very clever how the subtitles change so important information on-screen isn’t blocked (although there are a few minor occasions where this still happens). Subtitles are very neat, indeed!


Think Outside the Box...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s