What Is Closed Captioning and Why Is It Important?

Kristina Trajkovska
By Kristina Trajkovska

Closed captioning is most commonly used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it can also be helpful for non-native speakers and those who can’t hear the audio due to noise or other factors. So what is closed captioning and how is it different from subtitles? Those are some of the questions this article will answer.

What Is Closed Captioning?

We define closed captioning as the process of displaying text on a screen to provide additional or interpretive information. This text can be either a transcription of the dialogue or a description of the action taking place on screen.

Types of Closed Captioning

There are two main ways to create closed captions: manually and automatically.

Manual captioning is done by transcribers who listen to the audio and type out what they hear. This method is generally considered more accurate, but it can be very time-consuming. Meanwhile, automatic captioning uses speech-to-text software to generate captions, which a human can then edit to improve their accuracy.

Automatic Speech Recognition

Automatic speech recognition (ASR) is a technology that enables computers to convert spoken language into text. ASR systems are used in various applications, such as voice-activated controls, hands-free typing, and closed captioning.

Closed Caption Standards

The DMCP, FCC, and WCAG define the captions standards and ensure that all closed captions are accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people.

DCMP Equivalency Guidelines

The DCMP Equivalency Guidelines are standards for the creation and placement of closed captions on digital video. These guidelines are designed to ensure that all viewers, regardless of their level of hearing loss, can access and understand the information in the captions.

The DMCP’s viewpoint on captioning is that “all captioning should include as much of the original language as possible; words or phrases which may be unfamiliar to the audience should not be replaced with simple synonyms.”

FCC Regulations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the government agency responsible for regulating closed captioning. The FCC’s rules require that all English-language television programs be captioned, with some exceptions. Programs that are not required to be captioned include those that air before 6:00 AM or after 2:00 AM and programming that is primarily textual. There are also exceptions for some non-news and non-talk programs.

WCAG 2.0 Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are standards for making web content accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0, the most recent version of these guidelines, includes provisions for the closed captioning of online video. WCAG has three levels of compliance for the closed caption of online videos — Level A, which is the easiest; level AA, and level AAA meaning it is the hardest to complete. 

The Importance of Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is essential for providing access to television and other media for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, captioning can be helpful for people who may not be able to hear the audio due to noise or other factors.

So if you’re wondering what does closed captioning mean to the people who use them, the answer is more than just the definition. Closed captions make the world more accessible to many people.

The History of Closed Captioning

The first closed captions were created in 1971 for a live telethon. The technology was developed further in the 1970s, and closed captioning became widely available on television sets in the 1990s. 

Closed vs. Open Captioning

So what is the difference between open and closed captions? Well, closed captioning is the text displayed on the screen that can be turned on or off by the viewer. In contrast, the open captioning definition is that the text is always visible and cannot be turned off.

In Conclusion

Closed captioning is a service that provides text-to-speech conversion for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This text appears on the television screen, providing an auditory experience for those who cannot hear the dialogue or sound effects. Closed captioning can also be used by people with learning disabilities and people who are not native English speakers. Captions appear in various fonts and colors, depending on the user’s preferences and settings.

What Is Closed Captioning? FAQ

What is the difference between subtitles and closed captions?

The closed captioning vs. subtitles debate has been going on for a long time. Subtitles are a transcription of the dialogue in a video that is usually shown at the bottom of the screen. Closed captions are a complete description of what is happening in the video and include sound effects, music, and other non-verbal information.

How do I turn on closed captioning?

Most televisions and streaming devices have a button on the remote control or video player that says “CC” or “Captions” for the closed caption option. Pressing this button will turn the captions on or off. You can also usually find the closed captioning settings in your device’s audio/video settings menu.

Why is it called closed captioning?

The term “closed” in closed captioning refers to the fact that the text is not always visible on the screen. The viewer can turn the captions on or off, depending on their needs.

Is closed captioning typed by a person?

Nowadays, a person does not typically type the closed captioning. Instead, closed captioning is created using speech-to-text software. This software converts the spoken words into text, which is displayed on the screen. A person can then edit these captions for accuracy. Someone can type out the captions from scratch, but this is ineffective and time-consuming.

Should closed captions be on or off?

Knowing what is closed captioning can help you in making this choice. But ultimately, the decision of whether to turn the closed caption on or off rests on your personal preference. Some people find them helpful, while others find them distracting. It all depends on your environment and who you’re watching your favorite programs with.