Developing d/Deaf Audiences Case Study

© Liz Hutchinson

Film Hub Wales and the Wales Council for Deaf People (WCDP) worked with six venues to offer training around the needs of d/Deaf and Deafblind cinema audiences, leading to the screening of d/Deaf led programmes in each venue throughout 2021.

In January 2021, Film Hub Wales put a call out to Welsh cinemas in collaboration with the Wales Council for Deaf People (WCDP). Thirteen areas were identified, based on regions of Wales where there were established d/Deaf groups known to WCDP in close proximity to cinemas. Venues were offered free training, outlining Deaf and Deaf blind cinema goers needs, along with examples of work from consultant Charlotte Little and an introduction to Inclusive Cinema’s work with the FDA and Sidecard. Six venues (Galeri Caernarfon, Maxime Cinema Blackwood, Theatr Gwaun, The Torch Theatre, Magic Lantern and Neuadd Dwyfor) put their training into action, receiving grants of £3000 each from Film Hub Wales to develop d/Deaf led volunteer groups or open days, testing new marketing and programming approaches for their local d/Deaf audiences.

  • To establish where D/deaf audiences in Wales could benefit from improved cinema provision,
  • To offer free training to interested venues who wanted to make adjustments to their programmes for d/Deaf audiences,
  • To build working partnerships between WCDP, other d/Deaf specialists and Wales wide venues,
  • To help venues to establish d/Deaf volunteer groups that could participate in the development of in venue screenings,
  • To help venues to address barriers for their d/Deaf audiences – understanding their needs as cinema goers such as tech, staff welcome, how to reach audiences regularly and managing audience perception of subtitles,
  • To connect venues to other projects like Sidecard to ensure that they have access to more independent films with suitable formats for d/Deaf audiences.

Target Audiences:

  • Galeri Caernarfon 1440
  • The Magic Lantern 1000
  • Maxime Blackwood 720
  • Neuadd Dwyfor 540
  • Theatr Gwaun 180
  • The Torch 576

Total 4456

Actual Admissions:

  • Galeri Caernarfon 1262
  • The Magic Lantern 677
  • Maxime Blackwood 884
  • Neuadd Dwyfor 669
  • Theatr Gwaun 462
  • The Torch 233

Total 4187

  • Galeri ran 3 accessible screenings, weekly, with subtitles for d/Deaf audiences. They created marketing assets with a young Deaf person using BSL which was used on social media, their website and on screens within the venue. They conducted outreach work through Coleg Menai and the BSL Hub in north Wales. Staff are also learning Level 2 BSL and have added signage so audiences can request an interpreter,
  • The Magic Lantern added 18 British independent or international films to their programme, with a total of 27 HOH/AD screenings, offered in addition to their weekly accessible screenings. They held an access open day and created a small access group of 4 people to help guide the venue,
  • The Maxime ran 91 subtitled performances on Sundays and Wednesdays, as well as providing Autism Friendly screenings and Box Office Babies showings,
  • Neuadd Dwyfor introduced new screenings of films with subtitles weekly on Thursdays at 5.30pm and 8.15pm,
  • Theatr Gwaun included at least one subtitled film screening per month and worked with a local group, the Sign and Share Club, to publicise the project and help with staff training,
  • The Torch offered 48 subtitled films over a 38 week period – more than doubling their offer of 18 subtitled films in 2021. They reviewed how they present subtitled and accessible films in print – working with a local film maker and signer, to create new accessible and signed video that focused on the film programme as well as theatre.


  • Galeri – 50 films including Rebel Dykes and Ali and Ava,
  • The Magic Lantern – 18 films including The Worst Person in the World and Bad Luck Banging,
  • The Maxime – 63 films including Phantom of the Open and Belfast,
  • Neuadd Dwyfor – 37 films including Gwledd and Duthchas,
  • Theatr Gwaun – 17 films including Drive My Car and Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,
  • The Torch – 43 films such as Joyride and Brian and Charles.

All venues benefited from the support of WCDP, who offered connections to local deaf groups. Deaf audiences were key to the delivery of each project such as young volunteer Nel at Galeri and a Deaf worker for RNID who was local to The Magic Lantern. Other partners included Coleg Menai, SENSE families, Sign and Share Club and Taking Flight.

Each venue received a FHW grant of £3000.

  • All venues reviewed their approaches to cinema provision for d/Deaf visitors, looking at their kit, marketing, in house training needs and staff interaction with audiences,
  • Provision of subtitled screenings increased, with venues noting that numbers in general have improved for subtitled films,
  • Venues gained a better understanding of the barriers d/Deaf people face when visiting the cinema. They learnt about audience barriers such as a lack of availability of subtitled screenings, issues where advertised screenings had no subtitles and inability to watch new releases on time due to lack of accessible formats,
  • A better understanding of the needs of d/Deaf people when visiting the cinema such as at the Maxime, where the learnt that lower sound and raised lighting helps the attendees to feel more comfortable,
  • Venues became more d/Deaf led, supporting their Deaf communities to engage in the development of the cinema through open days, access groups and paid work. Audience feedback has helped to improve experiences for Deaf audiences such as at The Magic Lantern where they have created an access group and invite feedback through an open call on their monthly leaflet,
  • Each venue increased awareness of their film offer amongst the local Deaf community,
  • New partnerships were created with skilled Deaf led organisations – continuing beyond the life of the funding, developing audiences long term.
  • Venues noted that marketing was a challenge due to a lack of data around d/Deaf cinema goers and knowing how to reach them,
  • While Deaf audiences increased, some lost income due to lower audience numbers compared to non-subtitled screenings. Feedback included that some disabled people are unlikely to attend events unless they already had confidence in how they would be received,
  • Venues struggled to source BSL interpreters – particularly in geographically isolated areas,
  • Adjustments to tech, websites and marketing materials were needed, which increased costs to the venue,
  • Without funding or internal resources for capital purchases, some found preparation for the project a challenge but used it as an opportunity to learn how to improve their infrastructure. Some changes were implemented quickly such as removing glass divides so that audiences could hear staff when buying tickets,
  • Scheduling was challenging, particularly for one screen venues, attempting to offer fixed, prime, times in the programme.

Venues supported d/Deaf and disabled audience members. At Galeri, they offered interpretation work for a young Deaf person within the venue, building their confidence and experience. At the Magic Lantern, one young woman remarked that ‘she might as well live at the cinema’ as a result of the new access group. Additional subtitled screenings benefitted local and d/Deaf visitors, offering a choice of different films to pick from, along with new ability to communicate with staff. Their opinions were also heard and responded to.

Each venue brought in new audiences that might not otherwise attend, increasing the footfall for each site. One venue remarked that while the increase was small initially, they could see word of mouth marketing in practice, with Deaf audiences bringing their families or recommending the cinema to friends. At Galeri, they generated employment for a local young person, supporting her skills development. They felt this reflected their brand to engage young creatives.

Social Cohesion:
By integrating subtitled screenings into main cinema programmes (including subtitled family relaxed screenings), in addition to using BSL in marketing within the venues, d/Deaf and hearing audiences were brought together. When conducting outreach meetings, audience who faced regular problems with screenings in larger cinemas had stopped going to the cinema completely due to the barriers, however those people are now more engaged and willing to visit the cinema again.

Knowledge & Experience:
At Galeri, their young BSL translator felt more confident visiting the cinema and proud when making marketing materials for the venue. These videos better the experience for other d/Deaf for Hard of Hearing audience members, making it clear that the venue welcomes and encourage the use of BSL. The Magic Lantern staff whose ages range from 17 to 62 have had the opportunity to take part in BSL training and share that with their audience. At the Maxime they also felt that the project helped to outline further training needs of staff.

Awareness / Attitudes:
All the participating venues received training, noting that their teams now feel more aware of the needs of d/Deaf and deafblind audiences. BSL marketing videos in the public areas of Galeri now raise awareness across all users of the building, including hearing people.

Increasing the number of subtitled screenings has increased access for d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing audience members to new release films across all six cinemas. It has improved representation within the audience, as well as on-screen, with hearing users adapting to the use of accessible formats. Each venue has reassessed their physical offer, from space in the building to technology used to present accessible screenings.

Young People aged 16-30
At Galeri, the face of their BSL campaign is 17 year old Nel. As a Deaf audience member and young creative ,she reflects the company’s overall strategy to engage young people in film and cinema.

Attendees at the Magic Lantern access open day suggested that they offer relaxed screenings of childrens’ film to attract over 15s, who may need relaxed conditions in terms of noise / light / movement around the cinema / acceptance. This has broadened their offer for young people.

The Torch realised that they historically their access focus was on their theatre productions and to some extent, the film audience had not seen the same level of marketing to highlight access screenings. This has now changed and will continue to improve over the forthcoming year, working alongside their film programmer and new Youth and Community Manager.


Since the development of the access focus, we have a young disabled woman who comes to films and events so frequently that she jokes that she might as well live at the cinema; many people on an almost daily basis tell us how important the cinema is to them and the town.

The Magic Lantern

Regular customers would ask if upcoming films would be shown with subtitles. We often found the same customers would attend each week.

Neuadd Dwyfor

Being able to offer 27 more accessible specialist screenings on top of our usual weekly HOH screenings (mostly on mainstream films) has really broadened our programme's accessibility and diversified the film choices for D/deaf audiences - we look forward to a time when ALL films have captions and AD.

The Magic Lantern

It is always a rewarding to see our staff team re-invigorated and liberated by new training/knowledge/experiences and our engagement with this project and the Sign and Share Club did exactly that.

Theatr Gwaun

There is still plenty of work to do, the whole process has been a learning curve and has highlighted areas of improvement in how we operate with our audiences in terms of access and engagement.

The Torch Theatr