illustration of people watching television with captions turned on

All About Captions

Contributed by Erica Pidor

4/9/2024 12:00:00 AM • 5 min read

As a person with hearing loss, I love closed captions. And I especially love that they’re gaining popularity with people who don’t have hearing loss. A recent YouGov survey found that 63% of Generation Z prefer to watch TV with subtitles on, despite having no hearing loss.1 This growing interest in captions makes life better for people like me, because more interest in and use of captions means that companies like Netflix are putting more resources into creating accurate captions. Let’s talk more about why captions matter for the hard-of-hearing community.

What are closed captions?

Closed captions are word-for-word text transcriptions of spoken words (and often music and background sounds), traditionally added to television shows and other video media. In the past, captions were an afterthought and were often not exact, leaving hard-of-hearing and Deaf folks out of the fun of enjoying movies and TV.

Open captions are also used – these are captions that cannot be turned off – typically, we see these on internet videos.

Closed captions are better than ever

Nowadays, with growing interest and the increased use of closed captions, they are better than ever. I rarely notice an error in captions when watching television or movies produced in the last few years! If you have hearing loss and you’re not turning on the captions, now is the time!

Auto-produced captions, like those found during video calls on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, are also getting better and more accurate. Though not as good as real-time captioning or CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), this is a step in the right direction.

What is CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation)?

CART2 is a live person translating spoken words into text in real time. Typically, the text is then broadcast onto a screen or can be streamed if the person providing translation is remote. CART is essential for the hard-of-hearing to participate in things like political caucuses, courtroom proceedings, or even church services.

While auto-produced captions are often “good enough” for someone like me, who has moderate hearing loss, CART is often required for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance if a person requests it. It is important to know that not all folks who are hard-of-hearing or completely deaf speak American Sign Language (ASL). CART is the appropriate thing to offer someone who cannot hear but does not speak ASL.

Captions at the movie theater

When we leave the house, finding closed captions and other accommodations for hearing loss is a much harder journey. Movie theaters are supposed to offer a caption option for folks who need or want it. This is usually done via a cupholder device that shows captions or with “smart glasses” that show the captions via glasses worn by the user. These options both have drawbacks and I hope that eventually movie theaters start playing movies with captions just like the TV at home!

Captions at plays

Theaters are usually equipped with a few ways for folks with hearing loss to listen better to performances. One way is with captioned performances – some modern theaters have screens in the back of seats that show captions for performances on demand. Older theaters may offer captioned performances for certain shows that have the captions on a screen near the stage.

Another option for hearing better at plays is your hearing aid’s telecoil. However, if you don’t wear hearing aids or are Deaf, this is not an option, which brings me back to the real importance of captions.

Captions are truly accessible

Captions make movies, TV, speeches, plays and more accessible for the vast majority of people with hearing problems! They can even help those with auditory processing disorder, Autism, the Deaf and English language learners. For this reason, I am quite passionate about advocating for captions and CART.

I love that young people are using captions even though they don’t have hearing loss – and I hope they are inspiring their parents and grandparents to take advantage of this continually improving option. If you’re having trouble hearing, while captions are great for helping with TV, you do need to see a hearing care professional! Schedule a complimentary hearing assessment at HearingLife today and see if it’s time for hearing aids (which I think are very cool).




Erica Pidor
Erica Pidor
Erica Pidor joined the HearingLife team in 2022. She has worn various Oticon hearing aids for her cookie bite hearing loss since 2015 and is passionate about helping others embrace the sounds of a life with hearing aids.
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