by Diane Preddy Hodges
Closed Captioning is an assistive technology designed
to permit access to television for persons with hearing disabilities, or
simply put, a visual display of the audio portion (fcc.gov).This enables the
hard of hearing and deaf population an opportunity to view programs with
typed script, usually at the bottom of each picture. Subtitles are
translations of dialog from another language and are intended for hearing
audiences. Captions are intended for deaf audiences and also show sound
effects (such as ‘phone ringing, door slams). This makes captions extremely
important for the hard of hearing rather than just following by subtitle.
Closed Captioning, which means it would only be visible to those requesting
the captions and could watch television at the same time as the hearing
initially took place in the 1970’s. This is considered to be one of the most
important developments in the 20th century for the hard of
hearing and deaf communities, allowing all individuals to be a part of the
mainstream culture of American Society (ncicap.org). To secure initial
captioning one needed to purchase a special decoder box that permitted you
to pick up the special television signal which was embedded into Line 21.
The early programs were very limited and only from public broadcasting or a
replay of the ABC news (at least 6 hours after the broadcast to the
hearing). In 1979 the National Captioning Institute was established by the
Federal Government because stations did not want to spend the funds to
expand this field (Lane, Harlan and Hoffmeister, Robert and Bahan, Ben
By 1989 a microchip was developed which allowed for all television sets to
have captioning ability without the decoder (costing hundreds of dollars)
box attached and in 1993 it was mandated that all television sets over 13
inches for sale in the United States must contain captioning decoding
capabilities internally, making this accessible to the average American
There are two types of captioning available now, one called “Real time”
where specially trained typists with speeds up to 250 words per minute
attempt word by word dialogue of a sporting event, news, and special
broadcasting. More common is the post production of captioning where the
text is placed after filming.
Added benefits to Closed Captioning are for those whose native language is
not English, to improve one’s comprehension and for children in learning to
read. Closed Captioning can also be useful in noisy crowded environments
such as airports and health clubs. In a time in America where there is an
increasing reliance on television media for up to the minute news Closed
Captioning can be vital to all. A newspaper is available only once per day
(with brief recaps of yesterdays events) while the television offers a live
connection to breaking news such as the terrorist attacks, the recent
tsunami and election coverage’s. Closed captioning has come a long way and
continues to develop.
Lane, Harlan and Hoffmeister, Robert and Bahan, Ben 1996. A Journey into
the Deaf-World. San Diego, CA. Dawn Sign Press. 435 p.
No specific author. About the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
Consumer Guide to Organization, Functions and Procedures.
No specific author. National Captioning Institute: A Brief
History of Captioned Television. Retrieved 02/27/05. http://www.ncicap.org/Docs/history.html.