Hearing loss-friendly programming
The world of entertainment and news programming, like everything else, is often aimed at the mainstream hearing public. While closed captioning is required by law for communication methods such as television and telephones, TV and other forms of programming aren’t always accessible to the hearing loss community. The Internet, however, has helped solve this problem by expanding access to captioned television programming, as well as playing host to various resources for locating captioned programming offline.
In May 2013, NPR began an initiative they call Breaking the Sound Barrier, in which live programming is fed to translators at Towson University, where they convert them to captioned scripts in real time. The scripts are available on the individual program’s and outlet’s websites along with the audio clips, so both the hard-of-hearing and the deaf can access the content. Today, scripts and captions are available for a wide array of NPR’s programming, though it’s still not all hearing loss-accessible.
The Federal Communications Commission instituted new rules in February of this year, improving standards for accuracy, synchronicity, completeness and proper placement for closed captioning in broadcast television. The new rules include improvements in:
- missed background noises and inaccurate dialogue,
- delayed transmission and speed of scrolling,
- translation of the program in its entirety and
- caption placement, so as not to block important information on screen.
At least one show exists where many of the subtitles are for the benefit of those without hearing loss: Switched at Birth on ABC is the story of two families trying to live together after discovering their two teenage daughters were (surprise!) switched at birth. The twist? One of the girls lost her hearing after contracting meningitis as a child. Switched at Birth, which premiered in 2011 and is now in its third season, marks the first time a deaf character, or several deaf characters, has been the central focus of an American TV show, instead of being relegated to a supporting role.
If you’re tired of subtitle-surfing from your couch, check out CaptionFish to see where closed-captioned movies are available in theaters near you. The search engine looks up both open- and rear-window-captioned shows throughout the United States.
If you check the schedule for ASL Films, however, all of the shows should be hearing-loss friendly. That’s because the studio in an independent, deaf-owned and -operated venture launched in 2005 by Mark Wood and Mindy Moore. The website features a list of their productions, as well as locations and times of screenings around the country.
One current release, Beyond the Embers: Vol. 1, is a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology intertwining four separate stories around a “hair-raising” central theme. The film will be shown at a string of locations throughout the East Coast, Midwest, West Coast and even as far as Honolulu.
DeafTV is an online video channel of original programming done entirely in sign language. Show topics range from cooking to news, science fiction, education, history and a slew of others. The site functions as a full on-demand TV service, and there is plenty of programming available to peruse at your leisure.
Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles is largely considered the premier sign language theatre in the United States. The company’s innovation has been recognized by Broadway and a number of awards organizations, including the Tonys. If you don’t live in the L.A. area, check to see if there is a sign language theatre near you, or if your local theatre company is planning any sign-language productions in the near future.