Closed Captioning

September is Deafness Awareness Month. This is the time to make an effort to understand what hearing loss means and how it affects different individuals. People who are deaf face many communication barriers and one of the most significant challenges is media accessibility. Closed captioning provided by audio transcription service providers are designed to help deaf people easily engage with video media.

Closed captions allow the hearing impaired to understand all the different types audio there can be on television and videos. Closed captions usually appear at the bottom of the screen and are available for both pre-recorded and live programs. Live or online captions are created as the program is taking place. In pre-recorded programs, captions are produced offline and displayed at the bottom of the screen as the person is speaking. Since they are added post-production, offline captions offer a higher level of accuracy than live captions.

Hearing loss is high among older adults and the aging population is growing. The results of a study published in audiology online in 2018 revealed that age-related hearing loss could affect older adults’ ability to understand televised speech. It was found that besides the use of hearing aids, closed captioning resulted in a significant improvement in television viewing and word recognition. Most of the respondents said that they had never used closed captioning technology.

Watching television is a common leisure activity among older adults and tools like closed captioning can improve their understanding of programs. The researchers noted that primary care physicians, audiologists and hearing aid dispensers should be knowledgeable about simple assistive tools like closed captioning that could improve quality of life for patients.

With the rise in the variety and number of viewing devices and screens, closed captioning is now much more than an FCC requirement checkbox, according to a 2019 TV Technology report. Both the hearing-impaired audience and the general population benefit from closed captioning. Suzy Rosen Singleton, chief of the CGB Disability Rights Office for the FCC, cited a study which reported that 80% of viewers who use captioning do not have hearing impairments. The FCC’s 2015 best practices document lists the following best practices for closed captioning for news:

  • Captions must be accurate and match the dialogue and other sounds on the screen
  • Captions and the dialogue spoken should be in sync
  • Captioning must cover the entire program
  • The captions should be placed correctly and not block other visual information on the screen

As we celebrate Deafness Awareness Month, here are six tips to create closed captions efficiently:

  • Break captions at natural places: Logical places to break captions would be when a sentence ends, at a comma, when the speech is paused, and so on. Align your captions to the speaker’s tempo.
  • Make captions easy to read: Keep caption length at two lines of text, recommends AI-Media. Avoid making them too wide across the screen and don’t break a person’s name or title. When it comes to the format, the golden rule is to make captions are easy to read. Make sure font is simple and not too large or too small. Using a single color can promote an effortless reading experience Standard captions are in white text against a black background.
  • Identify speakers: Let viewers know who is speaking by using the speaker’s name in the caption and putting the caption under the speaker. An on-screen speaker is designated by a dash and a space, and a speaker who is off-screen can be named in brackets. If names are not known, use generic speaker labels like Teacher, Student, etc. If people are speaking but there is no audio, indicate this with ‘no audio’.
  • Engage viewers with sound effects: Sounds like applause should be described in brackets. Describe music and other effects using words that describe the mood, for example, ‘brooding music’, ‘soft dramatic music’, etc. Punctuation can be used to indicate speed. Place a music caption on the screen to caption non-essential music.
  • Handling slang: Use the actual foreign words in the caption or indicate the language like ‘speaking German’. Retain the flavor of the language and the dialect.
  • Ensure accuracy: When to comes to captions, accuracy means completeness, capturing what is spoken word-for-word, no missing words, and no missing captions (www. meryl.net). Don’t paraphrase or use synonyms, and avoid correcting the speaker’s grammar or syntax.

To create captions, the audio from video needs to be transcribed and the best way to ensure accurate text is to use a digital transcription service. While apps and tools are available for speech-to-text transcription, the human touch is crucial for error-free documentation. Many transcription companies also provide closed captioning with time-coding.