Subtitles Now!


A new Pesky People campaign

The Olympics, Paralympics and Cultural Olympiapad is every where and with so much live online yet if you are deaf or hard of hearing you will be excluded as all video content online is not automatically subtitled.

With a huge jump in on demand services (as in you watch tv programmes, films or other videos online – very little of it is accessible to deaf people. On top of this where is the good practice for video on demand? The Authority for TV on Demand  (ATVOD) delivered a consultation about best practice for Audio Description, BSL and subtitling. What has happening since?

Adding to this none of the twenty-two Big Screen events taking place across the UK will be subtitled or audio described – we have been told it is  ‘technically impossible to do’.

Are public providers taking no heed of The Equalities Act 2010 to anticipate access needs or find solutions? If you go along to any of those events and have a hearing or sight loss you will be missing out all the action.

This campaign is not excluding the importance of British Sign Language or Audio Description of digital content but we need to start somewhere – in this instance it is with The Space website.

The Space was launched in May as a new free digital on demand arts service developed by Arts Council England in partnership of the BBC – with a total budget of £4.5million invested that ‘could help to transform the way people connect with, and experience, arts and culture‘. It’s also available on connected TV and The Space Channel (Freeview HD channel 117).

Yet so little of their content is subtitled or fully accessible to 10 million people who are Deaf or Disabled (nearly 18% of the population).

The Space Arts website will transform the way people connect with and experience the arts – by creating a two tier system of access for them and NOT for us. The UN believes digital access is a human rights issue. So do we.

Mo McRoberts, Technical Lead, The Space/BBC at The Future Everything conference in Manchester when asked said:

“we were aware that certainly on day one that imposing that level of accessibility on the arts organisations from the outset would be literally make or break. If we’d have said ‘yes you can do this but you need to provide captions’ they wouldn’t have been able to do it at all.”

He also says:

“accessibility for media on the web is new ground for all of the digital industries. Its not just the case that we haven’t set an attribute in a thing to turn the subtitles on and off, it the fact that browser support for closed captioning is pretty minimal, browser support for audio description is non existent to date. And so we are having to build things to make it work, to work around the limitations.”

On ACE website is states that the aims of The Space

will significantly build the digital skills of the arts and cultural sector, ensuring that they are at the forefront of emerging digital technologies, and making their work available to even more people

Well, we say “COBBLERS!” How can the arts and cultural sector learn that digital accessibility is important if they are not told or shown how to do it? The Space has the opportunity to lead in this area.

Pesky People has been working and campaigning tiredlessly to highlight digital access particularly in the cultural centre since 2009 – our question is why is digital access any different from physical access?

Just like arts organisations were forced to make their buildings accessible through the capital lottery programme – they can be encouraged to make their digital content accessible. They know there are benefits, they just need to be guided and shown how to easily and as cheaply as possible.

There are also 10 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK according to Action on Hearing Loss. That is 1 in 6 of the population that cannot access this new, free on demand access to the arts service…

We contacted The BBC at the beginning of May after The Space website launched  we had a lengthy skype conversation and was told that the site is seen as experimental and they didn’t have the resources to make it accessible.

We suggested guidelines and useful links to help and for the strategic clout of ACE and BBC to come to the fore. There are a wealth of online free resources yet both Arts Council and BBC should be doing more to show it’s commitment to online digital access.

One arts organisation committed to subtitling is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery they subtitle ALL of their videos. All 30+ of them! It’s done by one member of staff with no resources (using free open source software). If they can why can’t everyone else?

WHY is the BBC and ARTS COUNCIL not insisting that all arts organisations submitting video content to The Space programme do the same?

They could use Universal Subtitles?

It offers videos at each stage to show you what to do. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery subtitled all of the Staffordshire Hoard video blogs from their conservation team and uploaded them to you tube. It now only takes them 15-30 mins to subtitle each of their 3/4 minute videos.


There’s guides online and lots of help:

Step by Step guide to adding subtitles

 Arts Council has been committed to ensuring Disabled and Deaf people have access to the arts since the early 1990s why not continue that now?

I (Alison Smith) worked for Arts Council from 1992-1995 starting in the Arts and Disability Unit – it was the start of my arts career.

  • In 1992 they had a Disability Code of Practice – that had been adopted by all the regional Arts Council Boards, Scottish Arts Council, Welsh Art Council and NI Arts Council.
  • In 1993 The Employment Initiative to Increase the Employment of Disabled People in the Arts was published holding wide ranging recommendations – all of which were adopted.
  • The Capital Lottery fund in 1995 dictated arts organisations to implement full disabled access as part of any redevelopments. If you didn’t do it you didn’t get the funding. Many arts organisations  complained  – but they complied.
  • To date Arts Council England offers guidelines on how to budget access costs on top of Grants for the Arts funding and gave the funding separately … why not do the same for digital access?

Twenty years ago they took disability access seriously – what about now? 

Digital access is not a new territory to explore it is the same principle whether online or offline – the arts are for everyone.

There are plenty of resources, W3C guidelines, e-accessiblity guidelines available. Make your content accessible to all.

There is the a11y movement of people dedicated to digital access. A11y London is now in it’s third year (Pesky People is a founding member). There are hashtags #a11y #accessibility #deaf #blind #digitalinclusion to find out more.

The much applauded National Theatre Live broadcasts took place in cinemas across the county yet none of the live screenings were available with subtitles or audio description so Deaf and Blind audiences missed out completely. When we emailed National Theatre we were told they didn’t have a budget for it!


On Twitter use the hashtag #subtitlesnow and/or mention @peskypeople
join our Facebook Group, post your comments, add your picture with ‘subtitles now!’ card in support

We don’t want the issue to fall on deaf ears so we demand that: 

  1. The Space Arts website make all online video content accessible – start by ensuring all videos  are subtitled.
  2. Arts Council England ensures that artists and commissioned partners are offered guidelines to ensure submitted content is accessible (including alt tag descriptions, text transcripts (for audio content etc.). This will go some way to addressing digital access – we are not an after thought. We the a11y community can help you address this.
  3. Provide training and funding for arts and culture organisations to address digital access (working with Disabled and Deaf organisations like Pesky People).

Disability is a main cause of Digital exclusion* let’s change that

* Oxford Internet Survey 2009
Dutton, W.H., Helsper, E.J. and Gerber, M.M. (2009) Oxford Internet Survey 2009 Report: The Internet in Britain. Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford




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