Captioning advocacy means asking for quality captions where and when you need them; for communication, information, education, news, entertainment, or anywhere you want to participate and contribute.
Quality captioning displays the word-for-word text of spoken dialogue and narration, proper punctuation, speaker identification, sound effects, music and other audio description.
People with hearing loss (PWHL) need captioning for critical access to audio content of television and radio broadcast, film, video, web and live streamed content, live events, and other productions.
According to FCC closed captioning rules, captions should be accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed. AI captioning often does not meet these rules, and more PWHL need to speak up for quality.
Chelle: One of the things I wish I had done more of as the Hard of Hearing Specialist for Utah was to teach people to speak up and speak out for captions. I’m not talking about minor mistakes but how about the complete lack of captioning?
Honestly, I don’t watch television much but when I do, I want the same access that hearing people have. During the George Floyd riots, we had a protest going on in downtown Salt Lake City. One channel had no captions and there was all this action going on 20 miles from where I live. I had no access to information.
I searched for the television channel’s closed caption assistance information by the tv station’s name and tv caption assistance. It popped up first in the search results. I kept it short:
I’m watching your channel for live coverage of the riots downtown and there are no captions. I have a severe hearing loss so I can’t access the information via audio. Could someone please make sure the captions are on and working so I can follow your coverage? Thank you.
Then I shared the station’s email and phone number with my local Hearing Loss Association of America chapter email list. I asked them to tune in, see if it had captions and if not, call or email. I shared what I wrote so they had something to work with. Several of us wrote in and within 30 minutes, captions were on and running so that we could also follow the live coverage.
A lot of live spots in the news are missing captions. Again, I don’t watch TV but my husband does. If I’m sitting with him, I miss a chunk of information. I can’t advocate here as much as needed but those who watch TV should. Keep a list of TV caption contacts for easy reference. When you see a lack of captioning, let them know.
Don’t let it all be bad news. When you notice them doing a great job of captioning, tell them that too. When we do that, we let them know we appreciate their efforts. They also know we are still watching and using the captions they provide.
Michele: My captioning advocacy started with asking for the captioning to be turned on for public televisions in reception areas (even audiologist offices and D/HoH centers), lobbies, bars and restaurants. It was good practice that got me to the next step. I also frequently contacted local and national stations, both broadcast and live streaming, when captions were missing or subpar. From there it grew to everyplace I didn’t have access via captioning.
For broadcast captioning, I typically get good results for live streamed content, as most stations or networks list a Closed Captioning link in the footer of their website. A few times I have been forced to resort to filing an FCC complaint, which is easy to do and gets good results.
There is a lot of irony in captioning advocacy, and while things have improved over the last eleven years, it still exists. I often see hearing loss or disability-related news stories without captions. When I contact the news stations to ask for captions, I make sure to point out (in a diplomatic way) that when the subject is of specific interest to the 466 million people in the world with disabling hearing loss—people with disabilities constitutes the largest minority in the world—there is an expectation of accessibility. Excluding and disappointing such a huge group of people doesn’t reflect favorably on their organization, and they need to know that.
Contacting content owners to ask for captions is an opportunity to put them in our shoes by describing exactly how it feels to be left out. If you can do that effectively, you will make a big impact.
Always attempt to educate along with giving feedback, and do cite the statistics. Most have no idea that 20% of the population has some degree of disabling hearing loss.
Also, practice what you preach; don’t forget to caption your own online content.
Julia: The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) started the ball rolling for live television captions. Television stations were given a certain number of years to have live and educational programs captioned. That was almost 25 years ago. But when the pandemic hit, we found local television stations were violating the ADA and not providing live captions at emergency news conferences. And in some cases when we emailed to ask why, we got no response or bad email links to report captions problems.
There are many ways for captions to go wrong. From the television brand, make and model, to the teleprompter person not flipping the box for captions to “on” position, to a storm taking out the internet. But I will stick to what you need to do if you have bad captioning.
- It’s not usually the person captioning that’s the problem. Yes emergencies happen, but captioning companies have folks on call for emergency situations.
- If it’s a channel you watch often with captions, call the station when you see a problem. Lots of times they can fix it right from the teleprompter room. If it continues, note the time, see if you can pinpoint when it happens, and start the email chain to request accurate captions. This puts the station on notice that you’re watching their station and appreciate their compliance.
- If it’s a channel you won’t watch because the captions are bad. Email them. Be relentless. Point out you could be a viewer but aren’t because of the poor captions.
- If it continues, report them to the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission.
- If you want to know more about how captioning law works maybe look into one of the FCC.gov Advisory Councils. The minutes are public and anyone can read them.
- And when captions are going great, email the station and say thank you for including you as one of their viewers.
Sadly, stations do not know how important captions are. Why? I can’t answer this question, but I will tell you a story. Somebody was telling me how horrible the captions were on a TV program they liked. They never seemed to match what was being said. Sometimes they didn’t work at all. I asked if they contacted the station? The answer was no. They assumed it was because the person captioning was terrible at their job. The above story is one I have heard from more than one individual over the past 20 years, including family members.
Another area is radio broadcasts, and some do have captioning and/or transcripts, but more often than not I have to advocate for them.
Important aspects of Captioning Advocacy: Persistence and asking every time you cannot access content due to lack of quality captioning. You might think it to be time-consuming, but if you get into the habit it becomes routine. Saving templates of previous correspondence is a time saver.
The sad fact is that the majority of people with hearing loss do not take the time to advocate. What would happen if every person with hearing loss would step up and recognize they have a responsibility to ask for access, not just for themselves, but for the millions of others who also need captioning to be included?
If you’re not sure how to get started with captioning advocacy, or need help composing your request, Hearing Loss LIVE! can help.
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