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Captioning - Technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing


Updated January 09, 2012

Captioning has been around for years, yet its availability remains limited due to limitations of technology and inadequate legal requirements. Captioning has a long history, has given birth to advocacy movements, and has even generated lawsuits. Resources are available in the deaf community for people seeking captioned video online, and additional resources are available for people wanting to caption their own videos.

Captioning History

Closed captioning has a long history, which started even before the availability of closed captioning decoders.

Captioning Advocacy

Advocacy has long been a part of the history of captioning. Unfortunately, due to attitudes and misinformation, the deaf and hard of hearing community has often had to fight for captions. One example is Caption Action, which was a grassroots movement to increase closed captioning on home video. Today there is a second Caption Action, Caption Action 2, to increase closed captioning on the Internet.

Captioning Legislation

Captioning advocacy has resulted in Congress passing captioning laws to mandate captioning capability and captions on television. These laws today are outdated, which made necessary an effort to get a new law, the 21st Century Communications and Accessibility Act, passed in Congress. The 21st Century Act extends closed captioning requirements to the Internet for regular television, and updates legislation so that modern video programming devices have to be capable of displaying captions.

Captioning legislation has played a role in the growth of the captioning services industry. Today there are hundreds of captioning companies in the United States and Canada.

Captioning and Education

Sometimes educational materials needed to help deaf students understand their lessons, are not available elsewhere. So the Federal government supports a Described and Captioned Media Program, which meets the need for access to educational material. Families and teachers can register and download captioned educational video.

Educational Benefits

Captioning is known to have educational benefits, proven through studies. These studies have demonstrated that captioning benefits hearing children learning to read and adults learning English as a second language. In fact, every year in tandem with the National Education Association program Read Across America, there is a similar campaign called Read Captions Across America.

Theatre Captioning

It is possible for even the smallest local theater putting on a play to be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. An inexpensive yet effective method for captioning for small local theaters has been developed. More expensive technologies such as I-Caption from Sound Associates, are also available.

Internet Captioning

Many technologies already exist for web video captioning. These technologies are advancing quickly, and there are several websites that allow you to add subtitles (captions) easily.

Sources of Captioned Videos Online

A handful of websites offer captioned video for viewing pleasure. Hulu has some captioned TV shows and movies. One is Bill Cresswell, a hearing man who voluntarily captions and posts videos. His website also includes links to captioned movies. Another site is Captvids.com, a repository of captioned video. There are even sites that attempt to index captioned video online, such as 22 Frames.

Movie Captioning

Deaf and hard of hearing people can go to the movies when the theater shows either movies that have open captions, which are similar to foreign film subtitles, or a closed captioning technique called Rear Window Captioning. It took some time for me to get used to Rear Window Captioning.

Stadium Captioning

At some stadiums and arenas around the country, captioning is available. What exactly is stadium captioning? About.com interviewed a captioning service provider to find out.

Finding Captioned Movies

Deaf and hard of hearing people and their families can locate captioned movies if they are available in their area, by using the websites Fomdi.com and CaptionFish.

Accessible movies are still limited though. Therefore, advocates have been trying to get movie theaters to provide more captioned films. These efforts have been under way in Kentucky, California, and Australia.

Captioning Jobs

Captioning, especially real-time (live) captioning is considered a job growth area. Learn how people interested in working in captioning get started.

Other Captioning Advocacy Efforts

After protests from the deaf community, Netflix, which streams digital video, agreed to start captioning sometime in 2010.

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