Bringing Captioning into the 21st Century


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Captioner adding captions to TV program
Credit: VITAC

Thanks to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, Closed Captions Benefit All of Us

Recently my daughter asked what most children routinely ask of their parents: “Dad, what is it that your company does?” My explanation apparently required more detail than I provided when I simply stated, “We provide closed captions.” This, of course, led to a more thorough discussion in which I explained the origins of closed captions, how captions are created, who the primary consumers of closed captions are, and why it’s critical that closed captions are made available.

My daughter, who is pursuing a career as a professional educator, pointed out to me that closed captions are being used in many places other than traditional media. Within two minutes, she enumerated a number of uses in which she, and others of her generation, make productive use of captions. While I am aware of many of these uses, the epiphany I experienced was not lost on me. My daughter, her generation, and those that follow are using closed captioning every day in ways never envisioned when the Federal Communications Commission initially required the use of captions. And they — and every one of us — have the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHOH) community to thank for our ability to productively utilize captions in our everyday lives at both the personal and professional level.

As a direct result of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed on July 26, 1990, closed captions are now found within corporations, kindergarten to graduate school classrooms, arena-filled concerts, standing-room-only sporting events, and everywhere inclusion and accessibility is required and desired. Today, captions continue to expand well beyond the reach of traditional television and media content and into the corporate, government agency, and education sectors, while reaching new audiences every day via modern devices such as computers, tablets, smartphones, eyeglasses, and even watches.

No longer are the Deaf and Hard of Hearing the only consumers of closed captions. And some enlightened companies have taken notice as content providers and advertisers always seek that competitive edge in the battle for brand, market share, and viewership. But, unfortunately, captions are yet to be ubiquitous, even though there is a need and desire for them to be so.

So, why go to all the effort to develop and create great content, whether it be informative, educational, inclusive, or entertaining, if you’re not intending to share it and make it available to everyone? If you have a great story, or an important message to convey, you want people everywhere to have access to your content and the message you are delivering. If you have ideas you want to share, whether in an online video or corporate conference room, it needs to be as easy as possible for people to understand what you have to say. Yet, in 2018, many businesses and content producers still exclude a vast audience who may be unable to hear what they have to say.

After all, the number of people who may not be able to hear the audio associated with your video or your presentation is significant. There are nearly 50 million Americans, or nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population, in the DHOH community alone who are interested to see what you have to say. Add to that an ever-growing number of Americans who watch your content but who find themselves in environments where it’s impossible to hear the audio — on mass transit, in a busy restaurant, on a noisy gym treadmill, or the library — and the number of people who rely on captions grows substantially larger.

Facebook, for example, tracks more than 8 billion views per day on its platform, but as much as 85 percent of video views happen with the sound off. And beginning in January, Google Chrome’s web browser will mute all auto-play video content with sound by default.

Additionally, Facebook’s internal tests show that captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12 percent. Captioning videos also increase brand awareness, keyword ranking, and search engine optimization.

Then there are the latest findings from the world of education and corporate training that point to captioning lectures and video as a necessity to meet diverse learning styles and improve literacy, language acquisition, and overall retention (not to mention Americans with Disability Act compliance).

Captioning content, including, but not limited to, live events, videos, presentations, webinars, training or corporate conferences, is neither complicated, expensive, nor time-consuming and, in most instances, it’s mandatory under the ADA statute.

If you really are intent on reaching people with the content you’ve put so much effort into developing, it’s clear that captioning all content is simply the right thing to do.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask yourself, your family, friends, and co-workers how often they rely on captions. My guess is that you will find that, just as I do, a large number of them are everyday consumers of captions and are simply the frost on the tip of an iceberg of future consumers of captions.

P. Kevin Kilroy
P. Kevin Kilroy is chief executive officer of VITAC, the largest provider of real-time and offline captioning products and services in the United States. He has served as a senior executive and CEO of several successful technology businesses, including Samsung America, Seer Technologies, Bluestone Software, and Hewlett Packard.


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