Captioned TV – A useful tool for improved television viewing

Captioned TV in Australia has been available since 1982 for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Television programs with captions are those that display the text version of the spoken and/or audio component of the program being viewed. This technology was introduced to enable equity for people with hearing loss to have equal access to free-to-air programs across Australia.

In 2014, an amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act, ensured that all content aired between 6am and midnight on the primary free-to-air television stations included captions for both live and pre-recorded programs.

Captions provide an added stimulus to the watched program, allowing the person with hearing loss or deafness to follow along with the dialogue as written words are displayed across the screen. This can make it easier to pick up words that are either not heard or only partially heard, via the text stimulus.

Captions not only show the text version of the speech but can give information about who is speaking, annotate any sound effects or give extra information on the plot or other points for the program being aired. Captioning is different from subtitles, which is where a different language is translated into English (or whatever language you request) and provided as text on the television screen.

Types of Captions

There are various types of captions used for television programming, such as open or closed captions, real-time/live/online captions, or offline captions.

  • Open captions are automatically on the screen and can’t be switched off. This symbol denotes Open Captions:
  • Closed captions can be adjusted by the viewer, turning them on or off requiring a Teletext decoder to view. This is found in the television menu for operation, (click Menu, Subtitles, English CC). Closed captions are presented at the bottom of the TV screen, in different colours and timed and positioned to denote who is speaking. This is the symbol for Closed Captions:
  • Online captions are required when a live event is taking place and being filmed for direct streaming. For example, news broadcasting, sports events and live weather updates all require live captions. These are created via skilled stenographers who type as the words are spoken. In other instances a computer translation program that can change voice to text for the screen, in real-time is used. Online captions are not edited so some errors are seen with live-captioned events; however the accuracy is reported at around 98%.
  • Offline captions or pre-prepared captions are created for a pre-recorded program. They can also be created from a teleprompter script to be used for news broadcasting. This is not an appropriate caption for live news as it must be pre-scripted, and the captions created from the script.

Captioned TV is becoming very popular today, not just for people who have hearing loss. Captions promote reading and increase memory retention and comprehension. It ensures you don’t miss any of the spoken words.

 It helps when you don’t hear the words clearly, if the speaker has an accent, the scene requires whispered speech or soft speech, or you have a hearing loss. It can also improve your listening pleasure with others as you can help eliminate the “What did he say?” and the need to pause the program for an explanation.

Whatever the reason, Captioned TV is useful for everyone. If you haven’t accessed this free technology available on your television – give it a try. It may make watching your favourite program less stressful for both you and your partner.

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