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If there was any suspicion over whether or not deaf TV viewers were being seen and not heard, the recent Queer Eye subtitling controversy has put it beyond all doubt: they are.

Last month, Queer Eye fan, Rogan Shannon, took to Twitter to complain about the poor quality of the show’s subtitles, reporting that the captions were not word-for-word. Shannon observed how swear words were being omitted from the captions. To all intensive purposes, Queer Eye was being cleaned up.

“I want to know why you don’t caption every single word,” he demanded. “I can see what people are saying not matching up with the captions.”

The resulting social media storm was nothing short of seismic. Retweeted over 2.5 thousand times and liked by more than 9 thousand people, his comment sparked a world-wide conversation which shows no signs of finishing.

Stars of the US show haven’t shied away from voicing their opinions, either. Queer Eye culture expert Karamo Brown has called for Netflix to improve the standard of the show’s subtitles: something which, if done correctly, will cater for fans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

“Friends, #AsACulture I’ve noticed that when it comes to supporting people living with disabilities… we often don’t think how we can show up or support them unless they are in our family or are a close friend,” he Instagrammed. “So I’m committing to making small changes in my life to support my disabled brothers and sisters.”

Unfortunately, however, Queer Eye aren’t the only ones to have made a pig’s ear of their subtitles. Two years ago, a 17-year-old Jamie Danjoux petitioned Sky, calling for them to provide subtitles on their Go and On Demand services: something which they had failed to do until Jamie’s campaign succeeded.

“Like most people with hearing loss, I rely on subtitles that show us what’s being said on screen and what other viewers can hear,” he explained. “Without them, it’s just moving pictures to me.”

“I simply want the same service as everyone else.”

Around 11 million people in the UK are deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing; and by 2035 that number looks set to rise to 15.6 million. That’s a staggering one in five who’ll need subtitles to enjoy their favourite programmes.

Television is often described as a very inclusive branch of entertainment. The latest instalment from a popular reality show or a critically-acclaimed drama can connect friends, families and colleagues like nothing else. With discrepancies between what is subtitled and what is said, however, a show can fast lose its uniting qualities.

Ultimately, this whole issue boils down to equality. Hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide like Jamie and Rogan want to be treated equally. They wish to be respected and want the freedom to enjoy the same shows as their mates.

To avoid alienating their viewers and the public further, Netflix will have to address the cause of this major subtitling slip-up. Broadcasters across the globe will have watched on at the Queer Eye controversy and realised one fundamental reality: all eyes are on them, with or without subtitles.

Our subtitling need-to-knows

As one of the very few tools which has the power to transform a piece of video into something which transcends borders and language barriers, subtitling is vastly underestimated in this increasingly digital and content-driven world. To many, it’s just an afterthought which demands the bare minimum. But, by investing a little time and money on subtitles, you can directly connect with an audience the size of which we can scarcely imagine.

Before including subtitles in your work, however, we need to take a few things into consideration:

Sound quality: One thing which can really affect the quality of subtitles is the standard of audio. A poor quality recording can take ages to subtitle and will, if it’s completely intelligible, lead to an inaccurate interpretation of what is said. On the other hand, through making sure that the recording is of a high quality standard, you not only safeguard the quality of the video but of the subtitles as well.

Let them do the legwork: When it comes to creating a video for international audiences, translated subtitles can save you a world of stress and effort. Instead of creating several different videos and uploading them all individually online, it’s entirely possible to make your master recording work harder. By uploading different subtitles (each in a different language) to a single video, you’ll only ever need to publish that video once.

Keep it simple: It’s important to remember that there’s only so much space on the screen to play with. Long, rambling subtitles can prove disastrous for those of us with shorter attention spans – so it’s important to keep them short and sweet. Of course, our ability to keep things simple depends a great deal on what is said in the video. For example, a pause-filled speech delivered in a quick and concise way would make ideal material for subtitles. Things, however, can get a little tricky when what is said in the video is delivered in a slow, ponderous and overly-complicated way.

Know what you want: Subtitling means different things to different people. One content creator could want everything in strict verbatim, whereas another may simply desire a simplified version of what is said. Transcreation (i.e. a simplification of speech or copy to convey the same message) is becoming increasingly popular in today’s digital world where individuals, companies and political parties alike are clambering over one another to get their messages out there.

Sources: Action on Hearing Loss and Change

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