The Importance of Closed-Captioning

Gender and Hearing Loss
September 24, 2019

The importance of closed captioning

If you are a person with normal hearing, you probably do not pay much attention to closed-captioning on your favorite television shows, your streaming service, or your online videos. At least, you don’t pay much attention to it until you cannot access the sound for some reason or another. Suddenly, you do not understand what’s happening in the video and you feel like you’re missing out.

This is an experience that is all too frequent for those with hearing loss. When they are unable to clearly hear and understand the sound on television or online videos, they rely on closed-captioning. If closed-captioning is not available, is turned off, or is of poor quality, the hard-of-hearing individual is likely to suffer negative emotional and social consequences.

Because closed-captioning is a necessity for many individuals with hearing loss in order for them to fully access audiovisual material, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires closed-captioning in certain circumstances. The ADA requires closed-captioning for video transcripts by state and local government entities and “places of public accommodation,” such as libraries, hotels, and universities. According to Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, electronic communications of US federal offices and federally funded organizations must also be accessible and captioned.

TV captions must be “accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed,” as required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act also calls for “video programming that is closed-captioned on TV to be closed-captioned when distributed to the Internet.”

While these regulations may seem fairly comprehensive, the truth is that much audiovisual material is left out in this increasingly digital age. In fact, no existing laws require closed-captioning in the majority of online video. For example, captioning for platforms like Facebook and YouTube are unregulated. Video creators on YouTube have an option to enable auto-captioning on their videos, but even when this option is enabled, the auto-generated captions are often inaccurate. If a video creator wants to make manual edits to ensure accurate captions, it is often a time-consuming and expensive endeavor.

It has also been brought to light that streaming services like Netflix are not required to provide captioning. In cases where captioning is available, the captions may be inaccurate or of poor quality. In addition, it is difficult to get the full meaning of a spoken sentence when there are no markers for tone, inflection, or context. Emphasis cannot be registered and transcribed through machine captioning, which makes it even more difficult for hard-of-hearing individuals to understand and enjoy audiovisual material in the same way as those with normal hearing.

It is apparent that further regulations are necessary to ensure accessibility for those with hearing loss. You can take action by encouraging your favorite YouTube video creator to include captions, by asking restaurants and other public venues to turn on captions on their TVs, and by turning on captions in your own place of business. If you notice poor or missing captions on streaming services like Amazon Prime or Netflix, let them know. If you see poor captioning on a television program, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission under the “Access for People with Disabilities” section.

Access to closed-captioning is a necessity for many people, and it should be available to all who need it. To learn more about the importance of closed-captioning and how you can encourage greater accessibility, please contact our audiologist office today.

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