Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why Closed Captioning Isn't Just For Deaf People

Aspie Teacher
www.aspieteacher.com

Thanks to the excellent advice of a friend, closed captioning is one of the most helpful discoveries I’ve made. I didn’t even know until recently that you could get closed captioning on any TV show just by turning it on in your cable settings!

For a long time, my husband and I have been really frustrated by the ratio of how much we paid for cable to how little TV we watched. And then, oh my god, I discovered closed captioning. I could finally read TV instead of just watching or listening to it -- what a revelation!

See, following a conversation is pretty complicated:
  1. You have to be able to hear what’s going on.
  2. There’s also the assumption that the language being spoken is one you understand.
  3. There’s the question of whether you can parse the words correctly, or tell where they begin and end. And that has to happen in real time unless you want to be mentally playing back your “recordings” and missing new ones.
  4. Do the utterances have meaning to you?
  5. And can you remember everything you’ve just heard?
Yes? That’s great. But ... can you do all that and fit it into a social and emotional context too?

When there’s a glitch at any point in this process, a person can have a really hard time following speech or conversations. In the end it has social ramifications and I’ve gotten used to looking kind of dumb in social situations because it’s not realistic for everyone to pause for as long as it takes me to replay their utterances and then process them. Some days I’ll go with sweet but dumb, some days I’ll go with aloof. I can’t watch TV shows with a lot of speech and intense social situations, especially when they’re heavily dialogue-based. Too often the plot will hinge on an important line or joke that I’ll never fail to miss.

(This is not because I’m Asian! Too many people assume English is my second language so they’ll start gesturing wildly or not even talk to me, until I open my mouth and put them to shame.)

But now that I have closed captioning, a whole new world has been opened up to me. I'm able to read very quickly and process several words at once, so I can keep up pretty well with dialogue. I wish I had closed captioning for everything everyone said in real life; maybe I wouldn’t feel so stupid every time I had conversations with people.

The captioning system isn’t perfect yet; often there’s a delay between the speech and the text, and sometimes the spelling is downright atrocious. I hope this will be changed soon, along with people’s negative stereotypes about closed captioning. Someone once came over to my home and asked mockingly if a Deaf person lived there because of the captioning. I was so mortified that I could find no words to explain.

I’d highly recommend giving closed captioning a try -- it’s much easier to set up on cable than you’d think. And if you’re making a YouTube video, maybe you’ll consider adding captions because there are so many people with invisible disabilities out there who need that text badly.

----

This essay was originally published on Aspie Teacher, www.aspieteacher.com.