‘First posted on Inclusive Communication Services and reposted here with permission.’
It’s a Friday evening and I am dressed in my pyjamas, in anticipation of a relaxing night in with my partner. We have chosen a movie in preparation, which is paused at the beginning, ready to play. We pick up our glasses of wine, clink them together in a toast to the start of the weekend, and press Play. Oh no! The movie starts to play and when the dialogue begins there are no captions. Without any text to provide information about the audio, our relaxing evening is put on pause as we search for a more accessible film.
As someone living with hearing loss, I always activate the closed captions on a movie; without them, I would only understand a fraction of the dialogue and would probably miss the plot completely. I find it particularly difficult to hear speech over loud sound effects and background music. Without captions, the effort needed to focus on listening over the soundtrack and trying to mentally fill in any gaps between missed words, while studying the body language and movements of the characters, leaves me exhausted and I usually abandon the film altogether.
Subtitles and Captions—What’s the Difference?
There are different options for adding text that visually displays dialogue on media such as movies and TV shows, namely captions and subtitles.
Strictly speaking, subtitles are a translation of the audio into a different language, whereas captions are the text version of the audio content. Captions are referred to as subtitles for the hard of hearing and include any other relevant audio such as descriptions of sound effects and music.
There are closed and open captions. Closed captions (usually identified by a [CC] symbol) are optional and can be activated or turned off depending on the requirement of the viewer. Open captions, on the other hand, are part of the video and cannot be turned off.
Why Add Captions to Media?
Displaying the text of audio on movies, TV shows etc. can benefit all audiences, not just those with hearing loss. Here are a few reasons why I feel captions are vital for accessibility and are also a positive addition to the viewing experience for everyone.
- Subtitles Provide Language Support
Perhaps your target audience isn’t a native speaker, or you want to reach a wider population. Subtitles make media in different languages accessible to non-native speakers, meaning your content can be enjoyed all over the world.
Subtitles are also an effective aid for learning a new language. Whether you choose foreign-language subtitles or native-language subtitles, watching a movie or a TV show in another language with audio text can be an engaging and effective learning tool.
Furthermore, if watching a movie or show with a child, enabling closed captions can help develop their reading and language skills.
2. Captions Enable Silent Viewing
There are times where activating the sound on videos isn’t appropriate. Imagine you’re in a public place such as a coffee shop, and you want to watch a video on your mobile phone; it wouldn’t be respectful of the other customers to turn on the sound.
Giving the viewer the option to activate captions for video content means that they can mute the audio and watch your content anywhere without disturbing others.
3. Written Dialogue Assists Attention and Comprehension
Since I started watching movies with the captions enabled, I pay more attention to the content than before my hearing loss, as I am actively following the dialogue through reading. Combining a visual representation of speech along with the program audio, holds the viewers’ attention, meaning they are more engaged.
In addition to dialogue, captions also capture other relevant sounds, which give the audience a more immersive experience. Those moments of a movie where the volume of the soundtrack increases and words fade until unintelligible into the background, that phone call in a hushed voice, whispered comments—they are all revealed through the power of captions.
There are many benefits to adding captions to media. To anybody in the process of producing a movie, TV show or anything with dialogue, I urge you to provide captions. In particular, I believe the services we pay for, such as subscription-based media streaming services, should be as accessible as possible for all and therefore should always include the option to enable captions.
Not only do captions improve the accessibility of media content for people with hearing loss, but they can also benefit the viewing experience of all and help to reach a wider audience.