Whether you’re a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community or just want to make sure you never miss important dialogue in your favorite flick, closed captioning is incredibly popular with many. In fact, a recent survey by 3PlayMedia found that 98% of recipients watched movies with closed captioning turned on! By giving those with normal and damaged hearing alike the ability to read and experience sound and participate in healthy social interactions, it’s clear why closed captioning is such a hit. Thanks to laws such as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, official state and federal government videos, along with network TV programs, must have “accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed” captions, but what about online video? With new-age audiovisual media such as streaming services like Netflix, laws have yet to regulate captioning on the web. Ensuring access to closed captioning across all platforms is critical to avoiding barriers to auditory information, raising our quality of life, and decreasing social and emotional consequences.
The Numbers Are In, Closed Captions Are Used For More Than Hearing Loss
After discovering its popularity, 3PlayMedia’ survey dove even further into demographics, discovering who uses closed captions and why. What they found had further compounded the importance of universal access to these services. Captions were used by virtually everyone for a wide array of reasons, ranging from hearing loss to keeping focus. After crunching the numbers, 25% of respondents utilized captions for hearing loss purposes, while 75% of respondents used captions for other reasons unrelated to hearing damage, showing that captions do not only aid our hard of hearing community but the general public.
How Lack of Access Can Do Harm
For those suffering from hearing loss, there are social and emotional consequences that arise with a lack of access to auditory information. Participation in social interactions can plummet due to difficulty following along with conversations or fear of “being a bother” to friends and family, leading to depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Just like a conversation, watching movies or TV shows can be a social experience often done with friends and family. Without closed captioning, audiovisual information is withheld from those with hearing loss, excluding them from the social experience.
How does one participate in an equal society if they are excluded from social experiences? That’s what the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) argued after filing a lawsuit against streaming giant Netflix in 2011. Due to Netflix’s lack of closed captioning, the NAD argued they were not only violating the ADA, but treating the deaf community unequally. Thankfully, the district judge had ruled in favor of closed captioning marking serious progress for required captions, though many platforms such as Facebook and YouTube remain unregulated. With entertainment becoming increasingly digital, it is simply not enough to mandate captions for government programming or news alerts. Information will remain lost in translation until access to closed captioning is expanded to everyone, regardless of their hearing capabilities.