Why we need to caption

Why we need to caption

Screenworks are improving our accessibility. Part of this process is that we will require all new audio-visual published works to include captions.

According to hearing advocacy organisations (Australian Network on Disability and Hearing Link), one in six people are affected by hearing loss in the UK and Australia. In Australia there are around 30,000 Australians who are deaf, in the UK that is closer to 900,000.

Associate Editor Catherine Gough-Brady spoke to Deaf right’s activist, Alice Ewing, about her experience of using captions.

Alice’s experience

Alice Ewing is Deaf with a capital D. She is deaf rather than ‘hearing impaired’ because her hearing loss is “profound”. For Alice, the capital D indicates that she associates “with Deaf culture as well as being deaf.”

Alice needs access to captions to be able to watch a film:

“At the immediate point of cognition that there are no captions I feel panicky and isolated, and completely excluded.  This morphs into feeling disrespected, ignored, and discriminated against.  It is so hard for me to keep up with my peers, in all senses of social inclusion; workplace, friends, family and educational settings.”

Some of the videos on Screenworks do not use the spoken word as part of the filmmaking. So, I asked Alice if non-verbal captions are important:

“Where there is no visual indication as to what is happening, it is essential.… Description (detailed) of songs (including words), music (type, timbre, mood, etc) add a HUGE aspect to audio-visual content, which may otherwise come across as monochrome.”

It is interesting to note that Alice uses the non-verbal captions to help her to “anticipate what may happen next”.

Alice spoke about the difficulty of identifying speakers in a scene, as she cannot rely upon hearing the voice timbre to know which character spoke:

CATHERINE: Alice, what would help solve this problem?

ALICE: Having captions aligned to either side of a screen, in relation to the side of the speaker, or a different colour for different speakers… to have the caption text introduced with the name of speaker/character.

Alice loves “a rich tapestry of words” and accordingly she prefers the captions to reflect what is said, rather than provide a condensed version. She feels that she is quicker at reading captions than the average hearing person, and so the timing rules of subtitles do not need to apply. She would prefer the full text, even if it might seem to run too quickly. She finds that the caption is best if it slightly leads the speaker, as she reads the caption then looks at the visuals.

Alice hopes that her insight helps you understand a bit more about the type of captions you can add to your audio-visual works.

Link to Screenworks Accessibility Policy.

Image credit: Sy Taffel, Still from Automating Creativity (2019)

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