#captionTHIS: The Case for Captioning

Posted on Apr 5, 2017

Our ATLE blog series, “Reducing Stress in the Learning Environment” continues today with a post from sign language interpreters Susan Frampton and Natalie Mahaney, “#captionTHIS: The Case for Captioning,” about how the lack of accessible media in our classrooms creates unnecessary stress and impedes learning. If you haven’t already, take a moment to read the first four posts: “How Learning Occurs” , “How Stress Impacts Learning (and Teaching!)”, and “What You Need, When You Need It,” and “The Impact of Stereotype Threat, Implicit Bias, and Microagressions on Student Outcomes.”

Title: “#captionTHIS: The Case for Captioning”
Author: Susan Frampton and Natalie Mahaney

“Audism is the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear. “–Tom Humphries, Doctor of Cross-Cultural Communication.

Choosing not to caption, whether intentional or unintentional, is a form of Audism.

According to World Health Organization, 360 million people around the world have a hearing loss. That is at least how many people might be missing out on information in the media that is not captioned.

How do you feel when you miss out on information?

As human beings, we need a sense of belonging, understanding, and inclusion.

When these needs aren’t met due to communication barriers, then physical, psychological, and social consequences occur. The consequences include things such as: stress, embarrassment, guilt, withdrawal, isolation, low self-esteem, and exhaustion.

Imagine you are a student who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing and you have a test in class related to a video. Click below to watch the video and answer the following questions while watching the video.

Q. What is the student’s name?

Q. What is her full title at UBC?

Q. What type of information does she miss out on?

Q. What four languages does the student know?

Q. What type of live captioning does the student’s provider perform?

How did you do?

You just experienced some of the inherent challenges that a person who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing experiences when viewing media.

Not only do captions need to be present, but they need to be of quality as you just saw from the video.

Captions need to be present for several reasons. One reason is because it is law.

There are several laws that support captioning:

  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 requires all federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act states that public and private entities cannot discriminate based on disability and people cannot be denied access because of their disability, including access to information.
  • The ADA also states the appropriate access for media is through captions. Title I covers all public and governmental agencies. Title II covers commercial entities, including online businesses.
  • The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 requires video content previously broadcast on TV to be captioned when delivered over the internet and all devices large enough for video must be equipped to support captioning (3PlayMedia).

When we think about who uses captioning, we think about people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. They cannot hear the audio, so they must read it. In a classroom, a student may have an interpreter, but an interpreter may not always be around (e.g. online classes). Plus, the student cannot watch the video and the interpreter at the same time. The same is true for transcripts. Imagine watching Hamilton with no sound and reading the lyrics from a piece of paper.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals are not the only people who benefit from captions. Quality captions are a part of Universal Design, a concept of making things accessible to all, whether disabled or not. According to a 3PlayMedia study, only 20 percent of people who use captions have a hearing loss.

ESL students, adult learners, those who require more time for processing information, and others who struggle with auditory processing may benefit from captioning as well. Students with ADD/ADHD have two modes of input making it easier to focus. Research has also shown that captions help improve literacy skills. Not to mention, captions are beneficial to anyone in a noisy environment, such as a bar or a gym, where it is difficult to hear the audio on the TV or in a quiet environment where others around may be disturbed by the noise.

So, captions are required and beneficial to all, and as long as the words are there that’s all that matters, right? WRONG. Captions need to be of quality. Many YouTube videos use voice recognition software. This software is usually only 80% accurate and this can cause a lot of confusion, and disruptions, in the classroom. Imagine you are showing a video and one of these scenarios pops-up:

Are your students getting the information? Or are they busy laughing and watching for the next funny caption?

What are quality captions? In 2014, the FCC established standards for captions.

Also, the Described Caption Media Program (DCMP) has created guidelines that adhere to these standards. Here is a link to those guidelines..

Strides in ensuring access equality are ever improving, and your collaboration is essential for success.

So, what can you do? First, you can contact the production company to see if they have a captioned version of the video. If not, you can try to find an alternative video that does have accessible captions.

If you can’t find a video to your liking, you can have your video captioned, either in house or externally. There are caption companies that will caption your videos for a price.

Or you can caption it yourself.

Pepnet.org has a free, 2-hour training. There you can caption a short video yourself and learn about appropriate captioning.

Amara.org is a free online program that allows you to caption your video and show it through the Amara site.

Disability Support Services can also caption videos, if given enough notice. It takes, on average, about 5-10 times the duration of the video to caption it. Why? First, the video has to be transcribed, then that transcript has to be broken up into the correct lines with the correct number of characters per line and with the appropriate line breaks, and then the captions have to be time synced with the video.

Proactive planning on your part is imperitive.

Failure to caption, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is a form of audism.

Captioning affords accessibility to something that might otherwise be a barrier.

Disabilities don’t cause barriers, society does.

Let’s remove those barriers and …


– By Susan Frampton and Natalie Mahaney, Rock Valley College Sign Language Interpreters

Read previous post:
Smart Scheduling Tips from the Peer Mentors

Open registration is just a few days away, and the peer mentors have compiled some tips to keep in mind...