Closed Captioning – A Great Way For All Families to Unite

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Many Americans alive today can't remember a time when your primary source of entertainment wasn't the TV, which supplies a steady stream of shows, movies and news right to your home; though for millions of Americans, that entertainment option has been nothing more than one long pantomime. In the year 1985, 9 percent (21.2 million people) of the American population suffered from profound hearing loss, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. These days the people who are hard of hearing or deaf can enjoy almost half of all prime time programs thanks to closed captioning.

The government created an organization in 1979 to provide a majority of the subtitles and closed captioning that we now see on television. Thousands of videotaped movies, also have subtitles thanks to this agency. Look at it this way – if you are talking about six stations that run 18 hours of programming a day, around 13 percent of these programs offer closed captioning. Out of these shows that are captioned, a third of them are children's shows.

Network executives, programmers and producers are all requested by this organization to provide captions for their programming. Some of these people are surprisingly resistant to this idea. Sometimes the network directors don't realize how many people they are missing by not using closed captioning on their programs. We discovered when we contacted them that they had been completely unaware of how the needs of hearing impaired, or the deaf, were being ignored.

The audience for closed captions is estimated to be at almost one million, a fact that makes some executives reluctant to provide subtitles for their programs. The decoder is necessary to permit individuals to view the captions, and the above number is calculated based on 150,000 homes equipped with decoders. By the end of the year, the number is expected to rise by another 30,000.

Its an awkward situation because people will not bother with decoders or watch shows that are not captioned, while shows will not look into captioning unless the viewer ship is there to begin with. The cost of providing closed captioning to a one hour program can run from $1,500 to $2,200. The cost will fluctuate depending upon what show it is, how much dialog there is and how difficult the script is.

It must be determined when a caption should appear, and the length of time viewers need to read the caption, when prerecorded shows are being captioned. Faster captioning is required for action films. It's a different process to provide captioning for Raiders of the Lost Ark than A Man for All Seasons.

While some of these programs receive their funding entirely from the Department of Education, some corporations, and the public broadcasting service, many others are being subsidized by various foundations or NCI. The deal might be that one party pays a third, another pays another third, and the network pays the final third. There are a couple of reasons for the small size of the audience for closed captioning, one being public awareness and the other being the decoder itself. When decoders were first introduced in 1980, the average cost was around $280. The cost of a decoder is now less than $250, usually around $200.

There are some government funded grants and private foundations that help low income families who are in need of decoders get one. Some of our country's largest cities are participating in our programs, that allow a charge of only $35 for the decoder. As technology evolves, we are hopeful that the cost of the decoder will continue to decline, someday reaching a cost that allows TV manufacturers to see the benefit in adding a decoder capability into one or more of their TV models.

Suffering from a hearing impairment is like having an invisible disability for many Americans. Today the largest group of physically disabled people in this country is the hearing impaired, but due to their invisibility in society these people often discover they have become isolated within their own lifestyle. Along with the obvious benefits that closed captioning brings to people with hearing impairment and deafness, it also allows for a uniting of families.

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