A Guide to Closed Captioning

In the past, deaf people were at a major disadvantage when televisions were adopted as a popular form of entertainment. While others could enjoy a source of news and recreation, the deaf community was largely left out. This all changed starting in 1972, when a Julia Child cooking show was the first program to be broadcast with dialogue captions. For the first time in American history, those who were deaf could still follow along and enjoy a television show. Today closed captioning is far more common. More than simply being a helpful addition, it is mandated for most television channels.

Closed captioning is essentially a running script of the current dialogue that is displayed along the bottom of the screen. What differentiates it from subtitles is that it also includes descriptions of sounds other than dialogue, for deaf people. For example, it might show details such as, “footsteps in background,” or “doorbell ringing”. In this way, anyone with deafness issues can still have a full understanding of the scenario on screen. Deaf viewers also have the option to choose between closed or open captions. Open captions are those that automatically appear on the television screen. By contrast, closed captions require a decoder device attached to the television in order to view the captions. While open captions were often used in the past, especially for news or emergency live broadcasts, closed captions are far more common now. Furthermore, some television sets also offer additional caption options for the deaf community. They can change or modify the size, color, or even font of the captions, as well as the background colors. This further helps address issues such as vision problems.

Deaf culture and the deaf community in general have benefited enormously from the addition of closed captioning to television and even on computers. Deaf education has progressed a long way thanks to closed captioning. For example, there are many situations where television or videos are used for educational and instructional purposes. Closed captioning helps to open up this mode of instruction to deaf people as well. Beyond this, it also breaks down barriers and stereotypes associated with those with deafness problems. It keeps them included in conversations and interactions with others, including hearing people. One of the most important changes towards disabilities in the last few decades is focused on greater accessibility. Closed captioning makes a normal daily life more accessible to people who are deaf or who have partial deafness problems. While it was certainly a novelty in the seventies, today closed captioning is a necessity. Deaf culture would be left quite far behind without it.

Technologies such as closed captioning, along with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act have promoted deaf education in many ways to encourage others to learn more about it. At the same time, they have also positively impacted deaf culture and allowed people in that community to realize their true potential. As deaf education continues to abound, we can be sure to witness many more technologies that help people to overcome their disabilities.