Hidden Hard of Hearing Community Revealed by Lockdown Captioning

Hidden Hard of Hearing Community Revealed by Lockdown Captioning

Public back increasing captioned performances and events as venues re-open

Two-thirds (67%) of the public sometimes find it difficult to hear what is happening when watching TV or live performances, according to new research. [1]

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, 24% of the general public now have captions switched on all the time at home and a further 26% have them on some of the time.

More than one in ten (12%) of 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. [2]

And the new data reveals lockdown has shifted public opinion towards increased captioning for in real life events in the future. Nearly half (46%) said that the number of captioned performances and events was not enough, with 77% saying they are in favour of venues offering more captioned performances.

If more captioning was offered by live venues, a third (31%) of the general public 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 (16%), more likely to go to events themselves (15%) or more likely to arrange a visit for the whole family to a show (14%).

And the public are also more likely to back venues offering such a service with almost half (43%) describing such a service as valuable and almost a third (28%) suggesting these venues deserve more funding from grant giving organisations and the government.

Almost a quarter (21%) 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, just one in five (20%) 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.”

Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director, said: “We are delighted to support Captioning Awareness Week at the Barbican this year, celebrating 21 years of captioning by Stagetext. It feels particularly fitting to mark the occasion with a captioned performance of the RSC’s The Comedy of Errors, since the very first captioned performance was the RSC production of The Duchess of Malfi, which also took place at the Barbican, our London base. We believe that Shakespeare and live theatre are for everyone, and ever since that first performance we have continued to include captioning across our programme as one of the ways we welcome audiences and make sure all can enjoy our work on stage.” 

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre at the Barbican: “We believe that the arts should be accessible to everyone, and working with Stagetext allows us to offer our audiences captioned performances at the Barbican. We’ve presented countless captioned performances as part of our year-round international Theatre and Dance programme. It’s great to now mark this 21st anniversary landmark with Stagetext’s free exhibition Captions Speak Louder in the Barbican’s foyer, to complement the RSC’s riotously funny production of The Comedy of Errors, which plays in our Theatre this winter, and which has two captioned performances.”

BBC Presenter Lewis Vaughan Jones, said: “When I suddenly lost so much of my hearing, I thought many live events and performances would be inaccessible to me. I thought I’d have to say goodbye to a huge part of my life. But the brilliant work of Stagetext keeps that world open, its value is priceless. Thanks so much for everything you do and Penblwydd Hapus!”

Stagetext is also celebrating 21 years since the first ever captioned performance in the UK with a free-to-attend exhibition of Captions Speak Louder at the Barbican Centre until the 9th January 2022:

To find out more about performances with captions, visit:



[1] Sapio research interviewed 2,003 people in October 2021 with the results weighted to be representative of the GB general population. Two-thirds (67%) of the population do not describe themselves as deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

[2] State of Theatre Access report (2019)

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