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“C” is for Captions… and Change

“C” is for Captions… and Change

By Shanna Groves

Editor: We recently “met” an aspiring author and advocate named Shanna Groves. Her novel “Lip Reader”, about an Oklahoma family’s hearing loss experiences during the early-1980s, will be published later this year. But you can visit The Lip Reader Blog at http://shannagroves.blogspot.com right now!

This article is published with the author’s kind permission.


February 2009

In my soon-to-be-published novel, Lip Reader, young Sapphie Traylor receives a lesson in closed captioning technology.

“That expensive thing is a decoder box,” Aunt Jolene said to me. “Your uncle and cousin can’t hear well, so this box makes words go across the TV screen. It’s called closed captioning.”

I sat beside her. “So they can read the words?”

“Yep, when it works,” she said. “But sometimes the box gets too hot; all the words just scramble up. Makes your uncle crazy.”

That’s the way closed captioning was during my book’s 1980s setting. Today’s TVs, outfitted with federally required captioning technology, provide much clearer captions. Pick a DVD, click on the subtitles, and enjoy flicks without hearing a word.

But what about captioning of other forms of entertainment? National Public Radio (NPR) is working on a project that includes captioning of its broadcasting. Certain live performances now offer captioning. You can request captioning for plays and concerts, just like interpreters, said Lise Hamlin with the Hearing Loss Association of America. “It takes time and patience to get that accepted, but it has happened in NYC and DC and NJ and other places-it’s growing.”

While captions help those of us with hearing loss better understand sound, we’re nowhere near a Closed Captioning Utopia.

I dare you to not get frustrated when a captioned football game flashes one misspelling after the other on your screen. Or when a weather telecast isn’t subtitled. Or when a live music performance is uncaptioned.

My husband and I planned for weeks to see B.B. King on Valentine’s Day. I expected to not understand all of the legendary performer’s lyrics because of my hearing loss. Still, I knew I could feel and enjoy the beat to his songs. I didn’t expect to sit stone-faced for 45 minutes while B.B. broke into story after story about his music journey. Afterward, my husband called the anecdotes funny and enlightening. I wouldn’t know. Captioning and interpreters weren’t on the concert bill.

Some of my blog readers sound off on their own captioning experiences…

“I went to see the play ‘Arabian Nights.’ Even through there were two ASL interpreters, I felt I did miss out on some. My dream is to have some sort of virtual captioning hovering above the performers’ heads.” -Pamela Siebert

“I like to watch television without sound. I even watch musicals without sound. It’s too much hard work trying to listen to TV with hearing aids. Ditto with movies. No captions = no watching!” -Tony Nicholas

“Does anyone else notice that with DVR, rewinding a program will sometimes start the captioning? No captioning although it is indicated, then I rewind and in just seconds, the captions magically appear.” -Heidi Storme

Are captions helpful? Absolutely. But those few bumps in the road need to be fixed.

I’m all for advocating to improve and increase captioning worldwide. It means contacting the place where B.B. King strummed his guitar and request captioning of future shows. And the persistence to keep contacting them if my first request is ignored.

Change starts when I refuse to just rant and rave on a blog, and educate folks who determine whether or not I enjoy a concert. Captioning is a necessity, not a luxury. The technology is there-waiting to be refined, waiting to be used everywhere. Visit the Links section on my blog for a list of hearing loss organizations advocating for change, and join me in supporting them.

Will you help me get the word out?