Although a large number of us have been enjoying the evolution of television for more than thirty years, there are millions of Americans who, until recently, have been missing out on all the amazing advances that TV has brought into our homes. Based on the stats given by the National Center for Health Statistics in 1985, nine percent of the population, or some 21.2 million people in the U.S., were deaf or hearing impaired. These days the hearing impaired can watch some of their favorite prime time shows and all the presidential debates because of closed captioning.
One organization is responsible for providing 90 percent of the closed captioning for the shows we see on TV, and it is a non-profit organization that has been around since 1979. They are also responsible for the subtitles that are available on VHS tapes. In a survey conducted over eighteen hours and across six television stations, around 13% of all programming provided closed captioning. Shows for children make up one third of all those subtitled programs.
Network executives, programmers and producers are all requested by this organization to provide captions for their programming. However as you can imagine this is no easy task. The market that will become viewers as a result of closed captioning, is something that network producers, are only now beginning to understand. They didn't really take this population into consideration when they were designing their programs.
With a closed caption viewership of about one million, a number of individuals have so far chosen not to provide captioning for their shows. This estimation is based on the fact that the number of decoders, which allow the captions to be viewed, are in some 150,000 households. This number is likely to increase by 30,000 by the end of the year however.
This kind of situation is a kind of catch-22, as the quantity of captioned programs will increase the viewer ship, which in turn alters the quantity of programs which are captioned. An hour long program will only cost around $2,000 to closed caption. This number varies because each captioning job is uniquely based on how long they have to produce the captions as well as how hard the script is.
When captioning a prerecorded show choices have to be made as to how long each line will stay on screen and how best to keep up with the dialog. Faster captioning is required for action films. It is much easier to provide subtitles for Raiders of the Lost Ark than for A Man for All Seasons.
Certain programs are completely funded by PBS, the Department of Education, and other corporations. Other programs are provided by NCI and other foundations. The deal might be that one party pays a third, another pays another third, and the network pays the final third. The trouble with bringing in deaf audiences is two pronged, firstly people need the decoder and secondly public awareness is a hindrance. It was first introduced in 1980, and was for sale at $280. Currently, most devices are under $250, on average.
Grants from foundations or corporations can help provide decoders for low income deaf or hearing impaired Americans who might not otherwise be able to pay. We also have programs running in many major cities to help people who need the decoder be able to get it for $35, while hoping continual improvements in technology will bring the cost low enough to entice TV manufacturers to build a model with the decoder capacity installed, the same way they have built in stereo capability.
Hearing disabilities are considered the invisible disability in America. 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. The biggest bonus to closed captioning is it allows a family to enjoy a show together, the hearing impaired enjoying the show or movie just as much as family members who can hear perfectly.
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