Where should the caption window be located for the best accessibility? I had not given this issue much thought until my recent visit to Washington DC.
It was a terrific trip. We toured the U.S. Capital and enjoyed many wonderful museums including the newest addition to the Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Everywhere we visited was accessible for people with hearing loss. The ticket counters were looped, and all video content was open captioned. It was a pleasure.
But it raised an interesting question. What is the best placement for public-facing captions—on the bottom of the screen, as is typical for television and social media, or on the top so they can be seen from the rear?
Public Captions on the Bottom Can Be Hard to See
I lean to the left. I lean to the right. The people seated in front of me are tall and given my shorter stature, it is hard for me to see the captions on the welcome video at the U.S. Capital. The captions are on the bottom of the screen, as is typical for captioned media, but because of this, they are hidden by those seated in front of me in the auditorium.
A similar thing occurred at the museums, where I needed to shift side to side behind taller visitors to read the captions on the video exhibits.
We learned this caption placement lesson firsthand at the screening of our hearing loss documentary We Hear You at the 2022 Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Convention. The room was set up classroom style, so the screen was not elevated. Once the movie began, we quickly realized that everyone beyond the first few rows was having trouble viewing the burned-in captions on the bottom of the movie.
Luckily, a CART reporter volunteered to add real-time captions at the top of the screen so they could be seen by everyone. Thank goodness for her.
For Private Use, Captions are Often Movable
When using captions at home, we have options. For example, the Zoom caption window can be moved anywhere on the screen with a simple drag and drop. I always move the caption window to the top of the screen because they are easier for me to see, and the top-of-the-screen location helps me look more attentive on the call. Rather than looking down (to read the captions) I am seen with my eyes forward and engaged.
Television captions are more challenging, but there are usually ways to adjust both the location and size. The process varies by cable provider and can be tedious and frustrating but is worth the effort if you watch a lot of sports. In the United States, the FCC sets standards for caption accuracy, synchronicity, completeness and placement. Report problems here.
Should We Change the Standard?
More research is needed to see if my experience is the norm, but if captions in public spaces are more accessible on the top of the screen, how can we help change this standard? We can start at home, by captioning our own videos in this manner.
Readers, what do you think? Are captions more accessible on the bottom or top of the screen?
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.