VoiceBox, Part of Wolfestone Group
From the increasing use of subtitles amongst younger audiences to campaigns calling for high-quality British Sign Language options; the demand for accessible multimedia is rising in the UK.

Making broadcast and media accessible is extremely important; and although accessibility is not to be treated as a trend, recent events and campaigns have certainly brought the topic into the spotlight.

In this blog post, we will go through some of the factors that may have caused this significant rise in demand for accessible multimedia.

Growing subtitle use amongst younger audiences

Years ago, you might have thought subtitles were specifically for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, or for people watching a film in a language other than their own; however, that’s no longer the case.

Of course, subtitles still serve this purpose – but it appears there is a new audience, young people.

According to research from captioning charity, Stagetext, young people are almost four times as likely to use subtitles than older people, despite having fewer hearing problems. Also, around 4 out of 5 young people say that they use subtitles all or at least part of the time.

Melanie Sharpe, Chief Executive of Stagetext, told BBC:

“I think there’s far more acceptance of subtitles by young people because it’s the norm, whereas with an older age group, it isn’t necessarily the norm. Older people often feel like subtitles require an “extra concentration level” when watching foreign-language productions. Whereas I think young people can take in far more information quickly because they’re used to it.”

Why do younger audiences use subtitles?

This question is up for debate.

Many argue that the use of subtitles by young people across multimedia stems from social media, which often contains captioned content.

As an example, up to 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound, but with subtitles.

As younger people are becoming increasingly more accustomed to seeing subtitled content on social media, they are more comfortable using the option when watching media through other means, such as Netflix.

But then, why have captions become popular on social media?

This could be a simple answer of shorter attention spans (I know, we sound old).

From Tiktok to Instagram Reels, the current social media trend is short-form video content. As users rapidly scroll down their feeds, videos only have a few seconds to catch the attention of potential views, who may even be watching the content on silent on the bus or under their work desk!

Creators will do so by adding colourful captions to their content, which may have started the popularity of subtitles on social media.

Whatever the reason, subtitles have become almost the default setting for young people across all types of media.

Increased accessibility in video games

Subtitles have usually been an option in video games; however, other accessible features are increasing.

The Forza brand, a popular racing video game series, recently announced that they will be adding on-screen ASL & BSL sign language interpreters to their games’ cinematic cutscenes.

Mike Brown, Playground Games Creative Director, commented:

“We’re constantly listening to the community to make Forza Horizon 5 an inclusive experience for everyone to enjoy. With this in mind, the team is excited to share we are also working on American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) support for cinematics in Forza Horizon 5.”

“We want everyone in the world to be able to experience our game, and with more than an estimated 400 million gamers with disabilities across the globe, it is vital that all players be able to tailor their gameplay in a way that works best for them.”

Unlike the increased use of subtitles amongst younger people, we wouldn’t say this stems from a ‘trend’ or should be treated as one, as the disabled community have, and always will, need accessible features.

However, accessibility in video games is certainly increasing, perhaps due to brands becoming more aware of what they could be doing for their audiences.

Has COVID-19 had an impact on accessibility?

In a recent interview with BBC Radio CWR, a member of the VoiceBox team discussed how the pandemic has also increased subtitle use.

Sophie Muller, one of our multimedia specialists, reasoned that there are many factors behind this.

Firstly, there has been a climb in virtual conferences, webinars, digital events, live streams, etc., which has led to huge growth in the need for live captioners.

Secondly, due to the necessity of face masks, many people who once relied on lip-reading to comprehend broadcasted speeches, events, etc., have now had to rely on accurate captions.

Thirdly, the work-from-home option has opened up opportunities for organisations to evolve with new working practices and accessible features, such as captioned and signed meetings.

Overall, we would say yes! The pandemic has increased the use of subtitles, and we’d even argue that it has led to a slight increase in other accessible features; however, not everything has been perfect.

UK Government admits to disability access failures

In recent news, the UK Government admitted to failing to provide sign language interpretation on broadcasts and webcasts of COP26. As well as other failures in including those with mobility impairments and adding captions to the whole of the conference.

This follows a long trail of failures, as the UK Government has also been unable to provide adequate accessible features for COVID-19 related broad- and webcasts.

Several campaigns have hoped to rectify this, calling for accessible multimedia across the board.

Lynn Stewart-Taylor, a Deaf campaigner, told DNS:

“The government has failed us. I feel that having come this far, we need to hold the government to account, and let them know that our rights cannot be ignored. If we don’t fight to change the system, things will continue to be the way they are.”

To summarise…

The demand for accessible multimedia is rising and a lot of brands are meeting this rise with increased use of subtitles, captions, and sign language interpreters.

On the other hand, things are far from perfect, as organisations and governments still need to be doing more to meet the needs of those that need accessible options.

If you are interested in widening your accessibility with subtitles and sign language interpreters, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us here.

Make your brand more accessible with VoiceBox.