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Is Your Class Accessible? Let’s Talk About Subtitles.

You’re sitting in class as the lights are dimmed. Maybe it’s a film studies course, or maybe your professor just felt like everyone needed a break from lectures and picked out a relevant movie. The professor hits play, opening credits roll and as the dialogue begins to make its way out of low-quality speakers to where you are in the back of the classroom, you search for some clue of what is being said. 

If this was Netflix, you could just switch on the subtitles. But now you’re in class, and if you put your hand up to ask for them, you might feel like you’re being disruptive. It might take your prof 15 minutes to figure out how to turn on subtitles. Your prof (or other students) might scoff at the idea because they think it ruins the cinematic experience. All in all, it might not feel worth it. 

I think a lot of us have been there. I know I have. 

Here’s my pitch: every movie shown in a classroom setting should include subtitles. That should be the standard. Not just in the case of a student having to ask for those accommodations through CAL, but always. 

There are a range of reasons why someone might need subtitles:

  • Difficulty with auditory processing. 
  • English is not their first language.
  • Hard of hearing/deaf but hasn’t yet registered with CAL. 
  • Personal preference.

And those are just the first reasons that come to mind. It might not even have anything to do with students, some classrooms just aren’t well set-up for screening movies. The audio might not travel well in every classroom, the movie’s audio could be poorly balanced or there could just not be enough speakers.

It just seems like the best possible choice, I mean what’s the argument against subtitles? The best I’ve heard anyone come up with is that they’re distracting or that the movie wasn’t intended to be viewed that way (hence a poor movie experience). 

I call bullshit on both of those. What’s distracting is not being able to understand what’s going on in a movie, and I don’t think that tiny strip of space at the bottom of the screen is of huge artistic importance to the viewer. We all pay way too much money for tuition to not have our classes be accessible to everyone.

Emma is in her fourth year of a BFA in Screenwriting and a Film Studies minor at the University of Victoria. She's an aspiring filmmaker and pop-culture obsessed. When she isn't writing for Her Campus or burning her eyes from staring at a screenplay that just isn't working, she's probably at home playing video games, watching movies (it's technically homework, she's studying them) or mindlessly scrolling through her TikTok feed.
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