I tried to feel a part of the Cultural Olympiapad celebrations last night and came away realising – nope it isn’t going to happen for me. No subtitles from the BBC.

The celebrated Simon Bolivar Orchestra was streamed live from Raploch in Stirling not only on BBC Four, but streamed live on iplayer and across the 22 cities with BBC Big Screens.

For me the glaring omission of subtitles online meant I had to stick on my headphones, amp up the volume and hope for the best.

Ok it’s music and classical music but I wanted to watch!

I wanted to find out more about Big Noise Orchestra and Sistema Scotland and the young people who took part – from what I read online afterwards the oldest only 12!


I’m also Scottish so there is pride that the launch event was streamed live from Stirling. I also have family in the area. I’m from Glasgow.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful and on the opposite Stirling Castle is Wallace Monument.

I’ve worked in the cultural sector since 1992 and I starting my career at The Arts Council HQ in London. Yet it feels like I’m back at the days where I was not a part of it.

Fast forward to 2012 it’s been 20 years  – the issue is still there where is the access? Where is the inclusion?

In 1993 in order to be able to communicate with every department (I worked in the Arts and Disability Unit then Touring) I had to go round every floor of Arts Council’s Great Peter Street offices to Combined Arts, Music, Visual Arts, Dance, Literature, Film, IT even Lord Polumbo’s office asking where their minicom was  all 20 of them  – all bar one were packed away in their boxes and noone knew how to use them.

I insisted they unpacked them, plugged them in and gave staff a free training session. They still didn’t use them to contact me, my calls would go unanswered so I’d have to go up and down stairs to find people. So when email came along in 94/95 I was relieved. It was so isolating.

Back to that concert – after an hour and  34 mins with head phones on watching online I was left with ringing in my ears and sore ears from wearing the headphones even with volume as low as I could go to safely manage. I don’t want to damage what little hearing I have left.

That feeling is still with me this morning and a sure sign that I’ve affected the hair cells that transport sound as the severe hearing loss I have is due to nerve damage. So I won’t be doing that again!

I watched the opening celebrations on BBC4 iplayer live cos the football was on. I can’t hog the TV just cos I’m the one that needs subtitles.

Technology now gives us all a choice of boxes, gadgets and locations of where we watch events now whether it’s the TV at home or on their laptop or smartphone – any where you have wifi access or even with the crowds in front of the Big Screens outdoors – so should I.

This morning I was sent the link to BBC iplayer to watch it assuming with subtitles. NOPE – none.

Ruth McKenzie The Cultural Olympiad Director was speaking on Radio 4’s World at One yesterday (21st November). The news report is audio with a picture slideshow but has and no text commentary so I cannot quote in full. She told how the main ambition of the project is “to engage with everybody; every community in the country“.

I know a number of cultural events will have captions, British Sign Language and Audio Description. So do I dig my way through the events programme to find the few I can attend?

Is that the same for other deaf and hard of hearing people or disabled people with access needs? Will our choices are reduced to a fraction of what is on offer?

Do I ignore all the live BT and BBC and Cadbury’s sponsored events  at the Big Screen live sites and Hyde Park in London. What about the live commentary and events at the 22 Big Screens  showing the Olympics and Paralympics across the UK on the Big Screen. All because as we know none of them will be subtitled or audio described? It is apparently technically impossible to do so.

Festival London 2012 website has over 12,000 events planned:

London 2012 website for the Olympics Paralympics and Cultural Olympics:

  • More than 16 million people across the UK took have taken part in or attended performances.
  • On London Over 169,000 people have attended more than 8,300 workshops.
  • More than 3.7 million people took part in nearly 3,700 Open Weekend events.
  • Some 2,500 cultural projects have been awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark [link to Inspire].
  • The culmination of the Cultural Olympiad is the London 2012 Festival, providing over 10 million chances to see free world-class events throughout the UK.

The subtitlesnow campaign started a petition to get the issue debated in The Commons. It got accepted this morning.

I hope you will support it.

We have 3 months (till 22nd September) to raise 100,000 signatures.

The Paralympics end on 9th September. It’s too late to change the 2012 Celebrations but let’s see it we can’t make a digital future that includes all of us.