A Complete Guide to Closed Captioning Technology

Anyone with a hearing disability will benefit from closed captioning when viewing videos, either on TV or online. Hearing aids also help people with hearing impairments, but closed captioning was designed to provide additional access to television for people who cannot hear or have hearing limitations. Prior to the development of this technology, people with the inability to hear had been closed off from accessing television shows and movies.

Open captioning technology came before closed captioning. Open captioning involves text that is embedded into the video, making it a permanent part of it. In 1972, “The French Chef” on PBS was the first television program to provide open captioning, providing access to deaf viewers. Soon after, initial closed captioning systems began to be tested and refined. Closed captioning has evolved significantly in the past 40 years, and the Federal Communications Commission now regulates it to ensure that video programming includes it.

Closed Captions: How They Work

The closed captioning process is different for live and recorded programming. For recorded programming, caption writers use captioning software that transcribes the audio. This software then inserts the captions into the video to synchronize them with the audio. The captioning also provides important cues about other sounds, such as a doorbell or phone ringing. For live programming, software encodes the audio data simultaneously during airing. Due to the live nature, this type of captioning cannot include precise timing and other audio cues.

Closed Captioning Benefits

A number of benefits exist with closed captioning. People with hearing limitations now have full access to video programming. The elderly are a fast-growing segment of the population, so this service can help them remain connected as they age and potentially lose their hearing. Kids learning to read or anyone with reading difficulty will benefit from the process of hearing and reading text at the same time. Even people striving to learn English as a second language will gain a faster understanding of words and phrases when they read and hear at the same time.

FCC Regulations on Closed Captioning

Companies that distribute video programming directly to people at home must provide closed captioning, according to the Federal Communications Commission. This includes television stations, satellite services, local cable television providers, and companies that provide video programming to home users. The FCC also requires that the closed captioning be accurate, synchronized, complete, and positioned so it does not block other content on the screen. These FCC rules were enacted on January 1, 1998.

Exempt Programming

Some programming is exempt from the FCC rules. Public service announcements, non-English programs, locally produced non-news programs, non-vocal musical programs, some advertisements, and a few other special programs do not have to comply with these rules. The FCC accepts complaints regarding noncompliance with closed captioning requirements. If you think a company is not exempt and it is not providing closed captioning, you can submit a complaint online, by phone, or by mail.

More on Technology for the Hearing-Impaired

  • What Are Closed Captions? (PDF): Closed captions are the streams of text that show dialogue, cues, and music that occur in video programming, designed to enable people with hearing disabilities to access programming.
  • What Is the Difference Between Open and Closed Captioning? Two types of captioning exist for video programming: closed and open captions. Open captions are an integral part of the programming, while closed captions may or may not be displayed depending on the viewer’s preference.
  • Closed Captions vs. Subtitles (PDF): While watching a movie in a foreign language, you might rely on subtitles to understand the dialogue. Subtitles are permanent parts of the movie, making them different from closed captioning.
  • Captioning to Support Literacy: Struggling readers or people trying to learn English as a second language may benefit from closed captioning because it reinforces reading skills and the spoken and written words.
  • Closed Captioning of Audiovisual Materials in Video Format (PDF): Colleges are required to provide audiovisual materials with closed captioning to ensure that students with disabilities can access the information.
  • Toward a Theory of Media Reconciliation: An Exploratory Study of Closed Captioning (PDF): To be fully successful, closed captioning needs to not only provide text of the dialogue of a video; it also needs to convey any connected emotions.
  • Caption This: A student with a hearing disability provides a brief overview of the process of adding closed captions to Internet multimedia.
  • The Benefits of Captioning for Hearing Aid Users (PDF): Older adults wearing hearing aids are one group of people who might use closed captioning. However, research has indicated that this segment of the population often does not used closed captioning.
  • Adding Transcripts and Captions to Your YouTube Videos (PDF): To provide closed captioning on an Internet video, you can either upload a transcript file or upload a closed caption file.
  • Make Videos Accessible: Affordable hearing aids give important assistance to people with hearing disabilities, but video websites such as YouTube also provide assistance, offering free services for adding captioning to videos.
  • Guide to Transcripts and Captions (PDF): To create captioning, you will need a full transcript of a video. Getting a transcript might involve hiring a service to compile it or compiling it yourself.