Accessibility statement

Deaf Broadcasting Campaign

The Deaf Broadcasting Campaign, later renamed the Deaf Broadcasting Council, was a campaigning organisation operating from the 1980s onwards to increase the accessibility of broadcast media to people with hearing impairments, and to increase their representation. Grants from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust provided funding towards this campaign before it became a registered charity, and thus its documentation from years as a campaigning group are contained within the archive (JRRT/4/621).

Cover of DBC news, a black and white publication (stapled together with three metal staples on the left hand side). On the cover is a cartoon depiction of the campaigner Mary Whitehouse, with the headlines 'Mary Whitehouse: should subtitles be censored?' and 'Positive or Negative...? TVs images of the deaf.'

The campaign had a number of key aims, which understandably changed over time. Obtaining a daily news programme which was signed and subtitled was one major objective; BBC2 provided a two-minute bulletin, but a longer accessible programme was needed. More training was needed for ‘deaf and hard-of-hearing’ people to enable them to enter employment in the television sector, particularly in production, to increase representation and awareness of hearing impairment in the industry. The campaign’s own newsletter and administration needed to be professionalised, to make its operation more accessible and engaging. And there was clear concern about a newly emerging area of the industry, cable television, and ensuring accessibility was built into their provision before they became popular in an inaccessible format.

As the 1980s progressed, so too did the scope of the campaign. The 1987 report looks at accessible games and quiz shows, noting that all aspects of entertainment should be accessible to people with hearing impairments, and in particular looking to get people with hearing impairments represented as contestants, of which previously there was no known example. The Price is Right and Bullseye both accepted contestants with hearing impairments that year. When foreign-language programmes were broadcast, the DBC argued that they should be subtitled rather than dubbed, and achieved some success with this particularly with Channel 4. The College of the Air provided educational programming, and they sought a working party on making this accessible. Unfortunately, an accessible news programme was still not available and remained a point of campaign, although with the nuanced observation that such an evening news programme would also increase general public exposure to sign language, and therefore awareness of it as an effective medium for communicating complex information.

First page of a typescript report from the Deaf Broadcasting Campaign. The black type is shown on a paper background.

The newsletter, DBC News, is an interesting forum for debating the concerns central to the organisation’s campaign. Issue 5 contains many interesting articles, but two represent the diversity. ‘Mary Whitehouse: Should subtitles be censored?’ (shown above) highlighted an issue raised by Mary Whitehouse, the conservative campaigner, from a letter by a mother whose five-year-old son had read crude language on a subtitle while the family watched a subtitled version of ‘Blazing Saddles’ on television. The objection to censoring ‘obscene’ language from subtitles was resisted strongly, pointing out that the subtitles only reflected what people could already hear, so there was no reason to censor the written word where the spoken word was uncensored, and that to do otherwise would exclude people with hearing impairments from understanding the programme in the same way as hearing people, and also prevent them from using their parental discretion, the basis of regulating children’s access to obscene content, if their subtitles did not allow them to identify what language was being used. Positive or negative…? TV’s images of the deaf considers the roles and portrayals of people with hearing impairments on television. Several common tropes are identified. One is characters with hearing impairments having superhuman correlating characteristics which they use as specialist skills, like being impossibly adept at lip-reading. Another is the depressing trope of encapsulating the person with only the ‘limitations’ of their impairment, the story normally being tragic and suggesting they cannot live a fulfilling life. Solutions proposed include having greater representation of people with hearing impairments in the television production industry, and to have a more proportionate representation of people with disabilities particularly in television advertising. Further study of television representations became a research project for the Deaf Broadcasting Campaign.