For many of us, going out to see a movie is as simple as looking up the showtimes and heading over to the theater. We choose the film we want to watch, find our seats, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
While people with normal hearing abilities are able to go see a movie or watch a show without having to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to understand what the actors are saying, that’s just not the case for deaf or hard of hearing individuals, nor others with hearing loss. Instead, many of these people have to hope that their local theater offers captioning devices for their feature films.
But what is closed captioning and why is it so important for deaf and hard of hearing people? Coming up, we’ll explore the world of closed captioning and why it’s so important for people with other than typical hearing.
What Is Closed Captioning?
Simply put, closed captioning is text that describes and displays the auditory portion of a video in a written format. Closed captioning is different from subtitles, though the difference isn’t necessarily apparent to most viewers.
In short, subtitles are a text alternative for people who can hear the video’s audio but want to be able to read the spoken words of the characters and narrators. Often, people use subtitles to watch films in other languages or as a supplement when in a noisy locale, like an airplane.
Closed captions, on the other hand, key viewers into other relevant parts of a video’s soundtrack, like music, ringing phones, and background noise. Closed captioning is critical for viewers that are deaf or hard of hearing as they may not be able to pick up on these important auditory cues that are important to the video’s story.
All modern TVs offer closed captioning capabilities, it’s just a matter of finding it in your display’s settings. Additionally, closed captioning is offered for many films and TV shows that are offered on major streaming platforms, like Netflix and Hulu. However, you’re more likely to find subtitles, rather than closed captioning, on many streaming services.
The History of Closed Captioning
These days, nearly anyone with internet or cable connection can tune into videos with closed captioning, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the very first TV program to ever have captioning was Julia Child’s “The French Chef” in 1972.
The program revolutionized the world of television for deaf and hard of hearing viewers, who could, for the first time, watch and understand all of the nuances of a TV show or movie. Soon after “The French Chef,” ABC began rebroadcasting all of its national nightly news shows five hours later on PBS, but this time with captioning, which was the first-ever timely newscast accessible for deaf and hard of hearing viewers.
The next major breakthrough in closed captioning came when the National Captioning Institute (NCI) developed a technique for real-time captioning in 1982, which allowed live newscasts and sports events to be captioned with accuracy. Nowadays, captioning is becoming more and more precise and more readily available, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, and the FCC’s new (2013) rules requiring closed captioning on internet-based programming.
The Importance Of Closed Captioning
As a result of improvements in technology and increased federal regulations, closed captioning is a fantastic part of daily life for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Closed captioning allows these individuals to fully experience the audio portion of a video program without ever having to actually hear the audio track.
When a program is closed captioned, deaf and hard of hearing viewers can pick up on sarcasm, understand the anger of a crowd, or understand who is talking when they’re not on screen. Without closed captioning, all of this important information is lost and a deaf or hard of hearing viewer misses out.
But, while closed captioning technology does exist, it’s not always used to its fullest potential. In countless restaurants, bars, waiting rooms, and the like, televisions play without closed captioning to help deaf and hard of hearing viewers. Movie theaters limit their open captioning (when the captions are on the big screen for all to see) to specific showtimes and their closed captioning devices can be clunky and uncomfortable.
What can you do if you’re watching a movie or show at home or in public and there are low-quality or no captions available? If you’re in public, you can ask the business to turn on the captioning or you can report the issue to a movie theater’s manager. Alternatively, you can file a complaint with the FCC to tune them into poor closed captioning in public broadcasts.
That way, we can create a more accessible TV and movie culture for everyone, regardless of their hearing abilities.