About Closed Captioning (CC)…

2016-01-31_10-01-12.pngI wanted to pen a post on a topic most of your are probably unfamiliar with and that is closed captioning. I’m pretty sure most of you have at least a basic idea of what that is but for those of us who are deaf it is a lifeblood of keeping up with keeping up with the world. Without CC our world would be a quite different place.

If you want to get an idea of what that means I would suggest that for the next few days when you turn on your TV to hit the mute button and watch for a couple hours. I know you would never make it that long but it would take that long for the reality of not having sound to really sink in.

I was going to give you a history of closed captioning but quickly realized that it would probably bore you so here is the cliff notes version.

  • The first use of regularly scheduled closed captioning on American television occurred on March 16, 1980.
  • Prior to 1993 if you wanted to access closed captioning you had to buy a separate set top box that costs more than the TV itself and even then only a slight majority of network shows provided the capability.
  • As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act sometime around 2005 the FCC mandated that all TV  and TV broadcasts after an initial startup period must provide a closed captioning signal.

All of this made life a little easier for those of us who are deaf.  Most, but not all pre-recorded network TV show do a pretty good job of captioning but some cable channels do it on the cheap. The quality  and consistency of captioning varies widely with live broadcasts such as the nightly news.  Sometimes there are 30 to 60 second gaps when the captioned message just locks up. It seems to me that these periods are during the most critical parts of the broadcast but I am probably being paranoid about that.  🙂

On February 20, 2014, the FCC unanimously approved the implementation of quality standards for closed captioning, addressing accuracy, timing, completeness, and placement. This is the first time the FCC has addressed quality issues in captions.

Closing out this post I want to complain a little about some of the constant aggravations in my hearing challenged life. I started using hearing aids in the early 1970s. Being a technology focused engineer I quickly came to realize that hearing aid technology greatly lagged that of other fields and the low tech hearing aids I was able to get were very expensive.

The same can be said for Closed Captioning. If you want to realize the recent advances in voice recognition technology just turn on Siri on your iPhone. I realize that being deaf for going on thirty years my speaking voice has deteriorated and was skeptical that Siri would actually work for me.  But it does!! I am amazed at how accurate it is.  If only this same technology were applied to Closed Captioning I could say goodbye to all those  very annoying thirty second gaps in my nightly newscasts.

Over the years I have come to accept that hearing loss technology is a step-child when it comes to technological advances. While there are about 40 million who are hearing impaired only about 4 million are deaf  so there is just not much attention paid to it.


Closed Captioned TV….

Continuing on with tools that help me and other deaf people coupe in the hearing world this post will cover closed captioning. When I went deaf in 1988 there only about 10% of the television coverage was closed captioned. That meant that I was pretty shut out of TV.  And even for that 10% I had to order an external closed captioning unit for my TV as the hardware was not standard at that time. The captioning unit costs almost as much as the TV and due to some technical matters the degree of accuracy of the captioning varied widely. Some of it was just not readable!

But maybe I am getting ahead of myself here as some of you might not even know what closed captioning is. Closed captioning is where all of the sounds and words on a TV program are spelled out in text somewhere on the screen. Many hearing people use it today so that they can turn off the sound and still watch TV. Of course this is usually so that their hubby can get to sleep without the noise.

Fortunately as the years went on captioning became more and more available. The main reason for that was the Americans with Disabilities Act signed in congress in 1990. It mandated that by 1994 all television would include a captioning chip (about a $5 cost whereas I paid over $200 for the external box). It also gave requirements as to what was captioned and how long it would take before all TV was captioned. I am a somewhat realist and realize that without this law TV would have probably been inaccessible to the 10 million or so of us that depend on captioning as it is today. Private businesses just don’t deem that number of people worth doing much extra for.

Fast forward to today and just about all programs are now captioned and of course all TVs made since 1994 have the ability to pick up that signal. But the quality of captioning on some of the networks is somewhat substandard. One of those cable/satellite channels has been the Hallmark channel. When they started up they waited until the last possible minute to legally bring up captions and it seems that they tend go to the vendor of lowest cost to get their original content captioned. I had always had a respect for the company but due to this experience I learned that they are pretty much the same as everyone else when it comes to profit verses service performance.

Anyway, thanks to the ADA act I can pretty much watch TV the same as everyone else. The only challenge I seem to have in the area is when we travel and come across hotels that have not replaced their TV inventory in the last sixteen years. But that is another story

And yet another story is with the increase use of video on the internet I am again beginning to feel left out as almost none of the videos are currently captioned. I guess I will have to wait for congress to regulate internet videos for that to happen. But of course with the extreme partisan gridlock that has taken those folks over it might be years before they can agree to act on this matter or anything else!

And the journey goes on….