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Closed Captioning Isn’t Only For The Hearing Impaired As Non English Speakers Benefit As Well

By Emma Ward

Television has been one of the main forms of entertainment inside the American home for more than thirty years, but millions of people haven’t been able to enjoy it to the fullest. Consider this bit of information from the National Center for Health Statistics – in 1985, 21.2 million Americans were deaf or hearing impaired, about 9 percent of the total population. These days the hearing impaired can watch some of their favorite prime time shows and all the presidential debates because of closed captioning.

There is a non profit organization set up in 1979 by the government that supplies 90% of the subtitles for TV shows. Along with shows it has also subtitled thousands of movies. If you do a quick study and watch 6 stations for 18 hours, around 13% of the shows will have closed captions. Children’s shows comprise about one third of these closed captions.

Encouraging network executives, producers, and programmers to close caption their shows, is one of the objectives of this non profit agency. Easier said than done in some cases. Though closed captioning has been available for thirty years, many producers are only now starting to understand the huge market that is available through closed captioning. They didn’t really take this population into consideration when they were designing their programs.

The audience for closed captioning is less than one million, so many of the networks have put off offering the feature 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 this year, that number is expected to add another 30,000 homes.

Somewhat like the chicken and the egg scenario – there will be more viewers if the programs are closed captioned, and more programs will be closed captioned if there are more viewers. For a single hour of programming, the cost of closed captioning is anywhere from $1,500 to $2,200. The complexity of the script, as well as the time frame allowed for captioning, will determine whether the price will be close to the upper or lower end of this range.

If the material is pre-recorded, the timing of the caption must be perfect as well as how long the words should appear on the screen. Programs that feature a lot of action sequences can be captioned more quickly. For instance, subtitling Raiders of the Lost Ark, will be much less involved than providing subtitles 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. Often it’s set up where we’re willing to pay a third of the cost if you and the network each pay a third. The reason that the audience for closed captioning is not as large as it could be is because the public is not aware of its availability, as well as the cost of the decoder. The decoder cost %280 in 1980 when it was first introduced. Today it’s often less than $250 and usually averages $200.

There are some government funded grants and private foundations that help low income families who are in need of decoders get one. Programs are currently being run in major cities to reduce the cost of the decoder to as low as $35. The goal ultimately is, that with the cost of technology reduced enough, television manufacturers would be encouraged to provide at least one model with the decoder already built in much the same way as is stereo capability.

Suffering from a hearing impairment is like having an invisible disability for many Americans. Even though Americans with hearing problems make up the largest physically disabled group in America, due to the fact the disability is often not obvious the hearing impaired end up isolated. One of the real high points of having closed captioning is the fact it creates an opportunity for a family to come together as well as serving the hearing impaired and deaf individuals.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Ward, Emma "Closed Captioning Isn’t Only For The Hearing Impaired As Non English Speakers Benefit As Well." Closed Captioning Isn’t Only For The Hearing Impaired As Non English Speakers Benefit As Well. 3 Jul. 2010. 4 Apr 2015 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Ward, E (2010, July 3). Closed Captioning Isn’t Only For The Hearing Impaired As Non English Speakers Benefit As Well. Retrieved April 4, 2015, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Ward, Emma "Closed Captioning Isn’t Only For The Hearing Impaired As Non English Speakers Benefit As Well"

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