The Power of Captioning, by Lauren E. Storck, Ph.D.

Gael Hannan
September 5, 2011

Gael Hannan has invited me to talk about captioning – which is my passion and my pleasure. I may not make you laugh, but  I hope to illustrate how extremely important captioning inclusion is for millions of people.

Communication is crucial to relationships; it’s darn hard to have meaningful relations at home, at work, and in society without effective communications.  All people with hearing loss depend to some degree on visual clues to understand – even those who use hearing aids, cochlear implants, loops and other assistive technology to boost or focus sound.   Lip reading gives us 35 to 50% of the conversation, but comprehension jumps to 100% with captioning, which is “speech-to-text” translation, the visual, textual display of all words spoken by all voices in any event. Captioning is delivered in real-time or prepared in advance, such as in the case of non-live television shows.

One in seven people globally have hearing loss and deafness, and the majority of us use speech. Captioning is a powerful component of our communication; it’s our receptive language, a “ramp” for inclusion in our daily interactions and activities.  Captioning inclusion allows us to fully participate in society, to use our skills, our experiences, our knowledge, and our abilities to give back.

“Real time captioning” is immediate and accurate, translating the spoken word to text in meetings, lectures, social events, and important conversations with doctors, lawyers, loved ones, and tax collectors.  In North America, it’s called “CART”, Communication Access Real-time Translation, and is provided by a professional captioner, a real human being who provides the service in schools, on the job, on the telephone, in theaters, to name just a few places.

Other forms of captioning include TV closed captioning which allows the user to turn the words on or off.  In the  cinema, new captioning technologies are being introduced, and in many museums and other cultural and city attractions, captions help make the spoken word understandable. There is a growing need for captioning on the Internet; so much of modern life is online, yet people with hearing loss are still excluded if video voiceovers do not include captioning.

Captioning benefits are not limited to the hearing loss population. Captioning allows participation by people with a variety of different listening and learning styles.
• Learning to read – text in the classroom, on TV, and online help new readers
• Learning a new language – translations are easier with full accurate text
• Business applications – when an immediate written transcript is required, or for anyone when there are often different accents, poor acoustics,  etc.

In spite of all the benefits, when we ask for captioning, our request is often ignored or denied. “What’s CART?” “Why can’t you read lips?” “We can only provide sign language for you!” But contrary to established beliefs, 95% or more of people who are deaf or have a hearing loss do not communicate with a sign language, which is a different visual communication entirely. 

We need captioning inclusion now, for news, entertainment, sports and so much more so that we can enjoy healthy and full lives.

For more information on universal, quality captioning inclusion, visit our website run by volunteers: Email us with your ideas and suggestions to [email protected].

Remember this: captioning captures communications for all of us.

About The Author:  Lauren Storck is an Advocate for Accessibility Equality. She is the founder of the grass-roots captioning advocacy network called the CCAC (see above). She inherited her severe hearing loss, as a surprise, about 11 years ago. She wears two hearing aids, and has chosen not to have surgery for implants, for now. With a few decades of experience in other professional pursuits, she is currently involved with the CCAC and other non-profits, to build bridges among people and celebrate our differences. The CCAC blog is one place she loves to talk –

  1. I had no idea that one in seven people have hearing loss. After reading this, it seems super important to make sure that we have captions for people. It’ll be great to support this for more companies.

Leave a Reply