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American Sign Language / Deaf:  Captioning

by Diane Preddy Hodges

Closed Captioning

Closed Captioning is an assistive technology designed to permit access to television for persons with hearing disabilities, or simply put, a visual display of the audio portion ( This enables the hard of hearing and Deaf population an opportunity to view programs with typed script, usually at the bottom of each picture. Subtitles are translations of dialog from another language and are intended for hearing audiences. Captions are intended for deaf audiences and also show sound effects (such as ‘phone ringing, door slams). This makes captions extremely important for the hard of hearing rather than just following by subtitle.   

Closed Captioning, which means it would only be visible to those requesting the captions and could watch television at the same time as the hearing initially took place in the 1970's. This is considered to be one of the most important developments in the 20th century for the hard of hearing and deaf communities, allowing all individuals to be a part of the mainstream culture of American Society ( To secure initial captioning one needed to purchase a special decoder box that permitted you to pick up the special television signal which was embedded into Line 21. The early programs were very limited and only from public broadcasting or a replay of the ABC news (at least 6 hours after the broadcast to the hearing). In 1979 the National Captioning Institute was established by the Federal Government because stations did not want to spend the funds to expand this field (Lane, Harlan and Hoffmeister, Robert and Bahan, Ben 1996).

By 1989 a microchip was developed which allowed for all television sets to have captioning ability without the decoder (costing hundreds of dollars) box attached and in 1993 it was mandated that all television sets over 13 inches for sale in the United States must contain captioning decoding capabilities internally, making this accessible to the average American family household.

There are two types of captioning available now, one called "Real time" where specially trained typists with speeds up to 250 words per minute attempt word by word dialogue of a sporting event, news, and special broadcasting. More common is the post production of captioning where the text is placed after filming.

Added benefits to Closed Captioning are for those whose native language is not English, to improve one's comprehension and for children in learning to read. Closed Captioning can also be useful in noisy crowded environments such as airports and health clubs. In a time in America where there is an increasing reliance on television media for up to the minute news Closed Captioning can be vital to all. A newspaper is available only once per day (with brief recaps of yesterdays events) while the television offers a live connection to breaking news such as the terrorist attacks, the recent tsunami and election coverage's. Closed captioning has come a long way and continues to develop.


Lane, Harlan and Hoffmeister, Robert and Bahan, Ben 1996. A Journey into the Deaf-World. San Diego, CA. Dawn Sign Press. 435 p.

No specific author. About the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Consumer Guide to Organization, Functions and Procedures. Retrieved 02/27/05.

No specific author. National Captioning Institute: A Brief History of Captioned Television. Retrieved 02/27/05.

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