Advocacy in Audiology: The Case for Captioning
By Lauren E. Storck, PhD
It is not only millions and millions of people with hearing loss and deafness who need captioning to understand conversations, videos, lectures, meetings, theater, and other speaking events (Arch Intern Med 2011;171:1851-1853
), but it is also millions more who use captioning for language learning, translation, and other good reasons.
The captioning of speech and sounds in real time is not always provided, even when it is vital for human communication. Hearing aids, implants, and other devices are not a substitute for quality captioning in many situations, such as three or more people conversing, videos on the Internet, complex studies in education, business meetings, several varieties of entertainment, and more.
There have been improvements in the number of professionals offering real-time captioning and in the development of new systems for creating captioning with voice-trained devices. Why captioning still is not viewed as a vital accessibility item and is missing from lists of resources is a mystery.
Twelve Reasons Why
Below is our list of why many people who need captioning do not ask for it, even though they may become increasingly excluded from education, employment, further training, healthcare, and social situations. The list is not all-inclusive; there are individual variations and many other contributing factors.
- Lack of knowledge that captioning exists: Some don’t know that their television has captioning, many do not know what real-time captioning is for meetings, and huge numbers think a caption is a cartoon.
- Uncertainty about where to ask: Unless born with deafness or hearing needs and given access to good information, resources, and captioning from the early school years, many do not know about local or government agencies, available technologies, or other ways to find captioning.
- A desire not to be labeled: Hearing loss and deafness still carry a stigma.
- The need for a buddy, an advocate, or a group: Finding out about captioning takes a lot of time out of lives filled with everyday chores, communications, and relationships. There is no time to explore the range of captioning options and resources, which take perseverance to locate.
- An assumption that captioning puts the user in the spotlight, and a desire not to stand out: People may not know how captioning is created during, for example, a hospital visit or business meeting, and they are understandably reluctant to call attention to themselves, be different, or “cause trouble.”
- The fear that captioning will cost too much: Goodness knows that too many people with hearing loss or deafness have been told this very thing too many times. The reality is that the cost of captioning can be built into annual budgets, can be negotiated with many providers who want longer term contracts, and indeed costs less than other features of life that are not as essential as communication access.
- People with deafness or hearing loss do not always have supportive families: It goes without saying that everyone needs support from others to ask for new things.
- Many people say they do not need captioning when in fact they have a hearing loss that effectively cuts off a percentage of comprehension: As one colleague told me in a recent personal communication, “We’ve all done this, pretended to hear something we have not.”
Another correspondent put it this way: “By the time an individual gets to the point of needing captioning, he or she has withdrawn and avoids settings where captioning is useful. On the other side are the folks who believe they have adequately adapted and have a mindset of, ‘If I can adapt without needing accommodations, so can everyone else.’ Of course, individuals in both groups do not realize what they are really missing!”
- There are so many hassles when asking for it: In many places, people are told to use sign language instead. Or they are asked if they need braille or help walking. Why is this? There are many complex reasons for the misunderstanding of our differences and abilities. Others do not ask for captioning because they think they will be asked in turn for information on captioning that they do not have.
- Unfamiliarity with laws about equal access: Very few have time to decipher the legal language, go through pages and pages of documents, and understand enough of the content. They wonder if the law covers them.
- It feels as if one is “taking advantage”: Another correspondent told me, “Being offered something that others around you at work do not need makes one feel too different, even that one is taking advantage.” Funding for captioning, or any needed resource, is not an advantage; it merely levels the playing field. Humans converse, and it’s a disadvantage not to understand what is being said.
- Fear that their request will be ignored, create resentment, or lead to punishment: A person with hearing loss or deafness who can still hear a few words or even many words in less noisy situations does not consider himself or herself “worthy” to make the request.
Rather than tolerate isolation and ill health, ignorance, and huge gaps in access, let us caption much more and in all places so that our languages are valued and millions of citizens have the communication technology they need every day.
Dr. Storck is founder and president of the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC).