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Closed captioning and the CCAC movement

Captions are words displayed on a video screen that display spoken words or narrate sounds in order to make the video accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Unlike open captions, which are part of the video screen, closed captions exist as a separate entity that can be turned on or off. Real-time captioning, or live captioning, such as that shown on a screen at a conference or during face-to-face meetings, is called CART.

What is the CCAC?

​The Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning, which was established in December 2009, is one of the only advocacy groups both in the U.S. and internationally that advocates for universal, quality captioning for any audio content, anywhere.

According to its website, CCAC envisions captioning as much more than words on a screen:

"CCAC considers Captioning (and CART) more than a technology like a hearing aid or looping. Many technologies help some people in some situations. Captioning is language itself. While it uses technology, it also needs human skills. It's a vital and primary communication method (as is sing language)."

Through it's "Don't Leave Us Out!" international campaign, CCAC educates people and advocates for the use of captioning in business environments, classrooms and public spaces so that everyone can be included, especially since 95 percent of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing that do not use sign language.

CCAC advocates the use of Caption Match to find captioners for events, media or meetings to make them accessible for everyone.

Captioning services help people with hearing lossHistory of captioning

The first time captioning was ever provided on television was in 1991 when PBS used open captions on Julia Child's immensely popular cooking show, "The French Chef." The first closed caption shows were shown on March 16, 1980 and included "The Wonderful World of Disney," "Masterpiece [Theatre]" and "The ABC Sunday Night Movie." 

Earlier, in 1979, the National Captioning Institute was developed to advocate for captioning on television for those who were deaf, hard of hearing or learning to speak English. In 1982, real-time captioning was offered for the first time. Strides were made in 1990 with the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, which was instituted by the Federal Communications Commission. The act required that all TVs - 13 inches or larger - built in 1993 and after must have the built-in decoder circuitry that allows them to display closed captions for any program.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which became effective in 1998, requires that all programming created for broadcast in the U.S. be closed captioned. Closed captioning for televisions and other forms of video is also required under other laws as a civil rights issue, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Though it was a long-time coming, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 was passed to require that the newest frontier in media - the internet - provides accessible videos to everyone. Additionally, the ADA, the Department of Justice and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled or made it clear that movie theaters must show closed-captioned films.

Who Benefits from Closed Captioning?

  • The estimated 28 to 32 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or living with hearing loss
  • The estimated 30 million adults and children who are recent immigrants learning English
  • The estimated 45 million children and adults who are learning to read each year
  • People who are trying to watch a TV program or film in a loud location

Captioning online

Sites like Netflix, YouTube and Amazon are increasingly offering captions on all of their content, as required by law. However, many improvements need to be made in captioning quality.

Captioning at the movies

Movie theaters used to offer separate open captioned films at particular times for those with hearing loss. However, this wasn't ideal, because the films were never held during peak hours like Friday and Saturday nights. While open captioning is still an option at some places, theaters are increasingly turning to more easily accessible, less conspicuous and more inclusive options.

For example, many theaters have begun using Rear Window® Captioning - individual devices that someone with hearing loss can borrow, free of charge, to attend any movie at any time. It sits in the cup holder and words are projected onto a clear glass screen that allows movie-goers to watch the film at the same time as viewing captions. RWC devices are great because they are discreet and don't bother other moviegoers.

The device was developed by the Media Access Group and has recently become more affordable for movie theaters as MAG recently decided to drop the licensing fee.

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