No Barriers to Cinema: Young d/Deaf audiences

A doubleheader of educational special events from Into Film celebrating language, communication and d/Deaf cultural identity.
Robin McHugh, Into Film

A doubleheader of educational special events from Into Film celebrating language, communication and d/Deaf cultural identity.

Summary of project

The central tenet of the project was to challenge the assumption that accessible cinema screenings need to be separated from mainstream programming. We promoted the events encouraging schools working with d/Deaf or hearing students to attend, with a 50% minimum allocation of places for d/Deaf young people. The emphasis was placed on the value of shared access to film and learning about others’ cultural identity.

The feature titles (Arrival, Isle of Dogs) were selected for their wide popular appeal and thematic links to language & communication, with short films exploring the work of d/Deaf artists and filmmakers more overtly.

Special guests included the poet Raymond Antrobus and London Short Film Festival programmer Zoë McWhinney, with on stage Q&As prepared and facilitated by students from Heathlands School for Deaf Children.

Project Aims:

1. Teachers and young people will have an increased awareness of film featuring D/deaf characters/performers.

2. Teachers and young people will have an increased awareness of film made by D/deaf filmmakers.

3. Young people will have an increased awareness of career opportunities in film, including to D/deaf people.

4. Young people will have an increased appreciation of cinema as an inclusive and accessible experience for all people.

5. Young hearing people will have increased understanding of D/deaf cultural identify.

6. London FAN venues will reach a more diverse youth audience.

Over 200 young people aged 12-19 from both hearing and d/Deaf backgrounds attended the events.

Project Headlines

On stage Q&As facilitated by d/Deaf school children gave ownership of the direction of the conversation and allowed
young people to speak directly to successful d/Deaf artists and film curation professionals.

Full BSL-spoken English interpretation of introductions, activities, poems and Q&As enabled inclusive participation from all.

Target Admissions / Beneficiary Numbers: 200 admissions
Actual Admissions / Beneficiary Numbers: 208 admissions


4 films (2 features, 2 shorts)

  • Arrival
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Dear Hearing World
  • Hideaway

Key Partnerships

With supporting funds from Film Hub London.
Participating FAN Venues: Lexi Cinema, Phoenix Cinema (East Finchley)


£2000 overall budget including in-kind income. Film Hub London

Support: £1035 (£4.98 per head)

What worked?

  • Thorough research before the planning phase using existing resources such as those by collated by Inclusive Cinema, consultation with d/Deaf educators and cinema goers, and discussions with multiple FAN venues regarding their experience of facilitating accessible events were all essential factors in the successful delivery of the project.
  • Initial research prior to the events suggested that hearing audiences find HOH subtitles detrimental to their enjoyment of the film. However, the context of the events taking place in a shared accessible space with an opportunity for learning about cultural identity, removed objections to the use of subtitles.
  • Ownership of the Q&A element of the events by young d/Deaf students allowed the content and direction of the discussion to be kept relevant to their experience, career ambitions and concerns.
  • An encapsulation of the project’s themes emerged when Raymond Antrobus quoted the Deaf artist Christine Sun Kim – “If sign language was considered equal, we’d already be friends” – and pointed out the same quote was printed on an audience member’s bag. The moment struck a chord with the project’s aims of breaking down communication barriers and creating non-segregated accessible cultural experiences.

What has been difficult?

• Reaching wider networks of educators at schools for d/Deaf learners.

• Obtaining HOH-subtitled DCPs. Sometimes distributors have archived their DCPs with subtitle tracks and additional costs are required to reproduce them. Other times, HOH subtitle tracks are not available for a selected film and must be created by the distributor involving additional labour costs.

• Sourcing and sharing performance materials (e.g. poetry) in advance to BSL interpreters so that they are able to prepare.

What you would do differently if you did it again?

• Take steps to transfer ownership of further elements of the events to d/Deaf schools and students including programming, cinema experience and selection of guest speakers.

• Draw upon knowledge and networks of d/Deaf educators attending the event in order to reach more beneficiaries.

Awareness / Attitudes

The project gave young hearing members of the audience an opportunity to experience accessible and inclusive cinema events and learn directly from their d/Deaf peers, while increasing their familiarity with, and appreciation for, British Sign Language.

Knowledge & Experience

The events gave young people the opportunity to learn about careers in, and identify links between, short film, performance, poetry and curation as well as develop their cultural experience through discussing film.

Social Cohesion

The events challenged assumptions that accessible cinema events should be separated from mainstream programming, and that reasonable adjustments to cinema viewing experience are only to be made by those with a disability, not those without.

Diversity, Access & Inclusion

Research and ongoing campaigns such as #SubtitledCinema have shown that d/Deaf people would attend the cinema more if accessible provision was improved, and this project contributes to the ongoing work towards this aim.

Video / Audio