The Impact of Closed Captioning in the Hearing Loss Movement

As the world has transitioned chiefly to digital, with the massive influx of online video content, captions, and subtitles have emerged as powerful tools to help viewers fully experience their favorite videos. They are commonly referred to as subtitles in movies and other streaming platforms; however, they are not actually interchangeable. In a nutshell, subtitles are the live transcriptions or translations of dialogue between characters, usually at the bottom of the screen. They are intended for those who need help understanding the dialogue. 

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On the other hand, captions – either open or closed – are intended for those who cannot hear the entire audio component, which often includes translating video sounds into text.

The difference between these two types is just the viewer’s ability to control their appearance, with closed captioning providing more viewer control and the most common.

Currently, over 5% of the world’s population, which equates to approximately 430 million individuals, grapple with disabling hearing loss. It is worth noting that this number is expected to surge to nearly 2.5 billion by the year 2050. Closed captioning is a revolutionary move to promote inclusion and accessibility for the hearing-loss community to enjoy the proliferating video content as much as hearing individuals. 

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Captions have a long, rich history, dating back to the silent film era, where “intertitles” were inserted into files to display dialogue or an action descriptor, usually highlighted for maximum visual effect. It became a radical movement for inclusivity when Emerson Romero, a deaf early film actor, made text cards and spliced films to insert them between scenes. 

The concept of captions has made a steady evolution since then, becoming more and more accessible as it attempts to compete with the fast-paced industry of multimedia content creation. This article explores the significant role of closed captioning in the overall media content industry by delving into its impact on the lives of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, the legal requirements governing its use, and the technological advancements that drive its evolution.

Accessibility and Inclusion

Captions function as a bridge to equality, offering individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing the same access to information and entertainment as those without hearing impairments. It does not only give them materials about the typical world, but it lets them experience it at the highest capacity. Specifically, it offers accessibility and inclusion in the following areas:

Hearing Loss Movement

  • Education: Close captioning is essentially a notable change for students with hearing impairments, as they can easily follow lectures, video presentations, and other educational content. This easy access has fostered equal learning opportunities for all.
  • Workplace Inclusion: People with hearing impediments can have an equal competitive advantage with their colleagues, as closed captioning can facilitate effective communication in meetings, conferences, and training sessions. This has, in turn, enabled deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to fully participate in any company activities, as well as display their competency in their professional work.
  • Entertainment: Entertainment has taken quite a turn with the influx of streaming platforms online. Closed captioning in movies, television shows, and social media video content transcends barriers, giving equal access to enjoyable content regardless of hearing-related disabilities.
  • Emergency Alerts: Closed captioning does not only give access to general information and entertainment, but it also saves lives by ensuring that vital emergency alerts and public safety information are accessible to individuals who have some difficulty with hearing. This site will provide more information about access to televised emergency information for deaf people.
  • Social Inclusion: The onslaught of captions in any video content, not just in streaming platforms or movies, but the widely used social media, has empowered deaf individuals to engage in online conversations and keep up with the latest trends, furthering social interactions.

Legal Requirements on Equal Access

Regulations and legal requirements have been developed to underpin the use of closed captioning and ensure that they remain a crucial tool for the hearing-diverse community and promote accessibility and inclusion with no underlying abuse from service providers.

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  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This is the landmark of all-inclusive legislation that mandates television broadcasting and other public media platforms to communicate effectively for individuals with disabilities. 
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: As per Section 508 of the act, federal agencies are obligated to ensure that their electronic and information technology, including multimedia content, is accessible to individuals with disabilities by providing closed captioning.
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG serves as an internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility, underscoring the critical role of captioning in ensuring inclusive online experiences.
  • International Regulations: Countries worldwide have now adopted accessibility regulations, often influenced by international agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to promote inclusion among their citizens and provide equal opportunities.
  • Broadcast Regulations: Many countries have established specific regulations governing the closed captioning of television programs and video content, ensuring that broadcasters meet accessibility requirements.

Here’s a comprehensive guide bout FCC guidelines on closed captioning of internet video programming:

The Emerging Tools and Technology

Closed captioning tools have developed along with technological breakthroughs, making their adoption and effectiveness seamless and widespread. Many advancements have taken place in this particular field, but the most noteworthy and essentially widely used are the following:

  • Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR): This technology is the cornerstone of modern captioning, automatically converting spoken language into text. This has elaborately reduced the need for manual transcription, improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness for caption service providers. 

ASR technology goes beyond transcriptions. It enhances deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals’ capability to enjoy multimedia content through real-time spoken language processing, even supporting multiple languages and adapting various content types due to its scalability. 


  • Captioning Software: This software is both cloud-based and a downloadable app that allows content creators to add captions to their videos quickly. These tools are best for customization of these captions according to needs and ensure accuracy through meticulous editing.

This software is designed in compliance with WCAG, making it accessible to global users. They ensure that their captioning ability is well within the standards so individuals with disabilities can easily understand. Their multilingual feature even adds to the experience, as international users will now have access to a broader range of content.

  • Real-Time Captioning: The pandemic has pushed several industries to explore a seamless transition from face-to-face gatherings to virtual events to reach out to their audience despite the physical restrictions. 

These widespread organizations have opened the trend of live virtual concerts, fan meetings, and the more traditional live broadcasts, news programs, and other live events. The emerging AI can now provide instant and more accurate captions in real-time, transcending language barriers for foreign fanbase and viewers.

  • Innovations in Captions Presentations: Several tools have emerged for customizable fonts, colors, and caption placement, making it more user-friendly and appealing, even to ordinary individuals who post daily content to their personal accounts. 

This customization also includes text styling, size adjustments depending on vision ability, and speaker identification for a seamless understanding of the viewed content. Tailoring the appearance and positioning of these captions is not only a function of preference but can be necessary for individuals with underlying physiological or psychological conditions.

More than mainstream media, content creators and digital marketing initiatives are now obligated to include captioning features in their multimedia projects. Even YouTube videos have directly embedded captions for every produced video. If you head on to Raffiti, there is information to help you understand the complexities of social video management, including the strategic inclusion of accurate closed captioning features.

The evolution of closed captioning, from a pioneering innovation to a now legal requirement driven by transformative technology, has provided the hearing-diverse community with equal access and opportunity to entertainment and information readily available by the hearing community.

With the continued breakthroughs happening with technological advancement on a daily basis, it is only suitable to look forward to more enhancement in securing accurate captioning for our deaf loved ones.


  1. Basit November 9, 2023

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