Subtitles have been unavailable on the channel since a production fault last month
The National Deaf Children's Society has written to Ofcom asking for regulatory action over Channel 4’s current lack of subtitles.
The charity has stepped in after the broadcaster announced this week that its full access services might not be available until mid-November.
It leaves deaf people across the UK facing another month of being unable to enjoy their favourite TV programmes with family and friends.
Up to 12 million could be affected by the situation, which the National Deaf Children’s Society has described as a “complete dereliction of duty” to deaf viewers. Subtitles are critical for people who are unable to hear television programmes and many simply can’t watch without them.
In the letter, the charity expresses “grave concern” over the delay and calls on the regulator to intervene due to the “severe detrimental impact” on deaf young viewers.
The broadcaster suffered a catastrophic fault last month, which has hit subtitling and audio descriptive services. The outage, which has already lasted more than three weeks, has angered deaf, hard of hearing and visually impaired viewers. More than 500 people have complained to broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
The fault happened on 25 September when a fire suppressant system destroyed hard disks at a broadcast centre.
An emergency back-up subtitling system also failed. The channel is building a new system from scratch, and said it will fix the problem more quickly than its current prediction of mid-November if it can.
The incident at the broadcast centre owned by Red Bee Media also affected other broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 5, although their services have now been restored.
Describing Channel 4’s anticipated completion date of mid-November as too little, too late, the charity wants to see regulatory action to make sure that subtitles are reintroduced as soon as possible.
Mike Hobday, director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “It’s simply unacceptable that Channel 4 is unable to provide subtitles for its viewers. We’re hearing from numerous deaf children and young people who are deeply frustrated at not being able to watch their favourite programmes with their family and friends. If there was no sound on TV, there would be a national outcry.
“Until recently, Channel 4 has been widely celebrated as a force for good in the disability sector, promoting and advancing disability awareness, equality and inclusion. However, the failure of its planning and the weakness of its response leaves us wondering whether accessibility remains a priority.
“Reinstating subtitles quickly would mean the welcome return of programmes that have effectively been ‘off air’ to deaf people for weeks. It would also send the message that young deaf people are valued viewers too.”
Maia, a deaf 16-year-old from Sussex, said: “I am missing vital moments in Channel 4 shows, especially The Great British Bake Off. It makes me feel frustrated that I can’t laugh at any of the jokes, let alone understand what is happening.”
Channel 4 said subtitles are being added to some shows like Gogglebox and The Great British Bake Off on its All 4 streaming platform, with new methods of delivering them also being trialled.
After announcing the delay to the restoration of full access, the broadcaster said: "We know that this will be incredibly disappointing to everyone, but we do need to get this right."
An Ofcom spokesman said Channel 4 "did not have strong back-up measures in place" and "it should not have taken several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems".
In a statement, Channel 4 apologised to viewers for not currently being able to provide access services, adding: "We realise how frustrating this is for our viewers and we have been in helpful discussions with RNID [the Royal National Institute for Deaf People] to aid our communications around the issues."
A spokesman for Red Bee Media said: "Things are improving every day and we are able to deliver more and more accessible programmes, but we are unfortunately still experiencing issues with receiving the media for which our access teams create pre-recorded subtitles, audio descriptions and signing.
"As soon as there are any more updates, we will share these."