What the Hearing Impaired Can Tell You About Captioning

We’re thrilled to have Steffani Cameron, caption timer here at Line 21, take over our newsletter and blog this month and then again in July. Welcome Steffani!

If you don’t need captioning, you probably don’t “see it” in the same way as someone who relies on it for full enjoyment of the show.

I’ve worn hearing aids all my life so it’s apt that I’ve spent much of the last 14 years working as a captioner at Line 21. Today, I’m passionate about doing it well. When Line 21 asked me to tell you about how hearing-impaired folks like me perceive captioning, I was thrilled. In a two-part blog post, I’ll be sharing with you a few of my thoughts on word accuracy, timing accuracy, phrasing, and positioning. Today, we’re focusing on word and timing accuracy.

It helps to understand that hearing loss is different for all affected by it. Since the loss occurs in fluctuating levels throughout different frequencies, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution… until you get to captioning.

In theory. Even captioning, which is supposed to level the viewing playing ground, varies widely from company to company in timing, style, and accuracy.

Every captioning house sets different reading rates, with some as low as 200 words a minute. As a viewer who can’t hear well and can’t fill in the gaps, this is a problem.

Why is a lower reading rate troubling? Consider dialogue in a fast-paced murder mystery like Sherlock, or an information-heavy documentary. Every word is critical! I can rewind and replay captions if a bit goes by too quickly, but I can’t fill in words I can’t hear, so word accuracy is huge for us. We’d rather read fast and struggle to keep up than to have truncated dialogue and risk missing a major part of the plot.

To this end, another critical factor is timing accuracy. Any comedy fan knows there’s no room for error with timing and punchlines. Same with plot points. Timing matters. Good captions take that into consideration, splitting the lines in exactly the right way, at the right time, so we get the “funny” when and where it should be — and “where it should be” is a fraction of second from when it’s said.

When the captions are anything more than one second out-of-sync, it’s amazing how much it can spoil a show. Two or three seconds? The whole experience is blown.

These are important aspects to consider as both a captioner and as a production company in need of captioning services: it’s imperative to know your audience – the hearing impaired – not just fulfill some accessibility requirement. It will be the difference between alienating a potential fan base or including us in your captive viewing audience.

I’ll be back soon to delve into the importance of phrasing and positioning. Till then, thanks for reading!

Update! Read part 2 of Steffani’s series.


This Month’s Mondegreen

This ad for Volkswagen is based entirely on Mondegreens. Have a watch for your daily chuckle.

Partner Profile: The Leo Awards

It’s May, which means it’s time to celebrate BC’s Film and Television industry at the 16th Annual Leo Awards! 

The red carpet! Champagne! Fancy dress! The Awards go all out. And with so much to celebrate, this year they’ve added a third night to the festivities. The Leos will be held May 30, 31, and June 1, with an unprecedented 102 awards up for grabs in a field of 1,052 entries.

Also new this year is the People’s Choice Award. It’s up to you to vote for the shows and films you think deserve this inaugural prize. So vote for your favourites right here.

We are thrilled to be an associate sponsor of the Leo Awards and are looking forward to celebrating this great industry, applauding the winners and nominees, rubbing elbows with the stars, and catching up with our clients. We’ll see you there!

Thanks again to Steffani for being our guest on the blog this month – check out the recipe she shares below.