Don’t Leave Us Out!

By Guest Blogger Lauren E. Storck, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director, Collaboration for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC), Disability Blog, June 13, 2012

“Don’t Leave Us Out” rings familiar bells with all of us living with a “disability.” For a huge and richly-diverse population – the mega-millions of us with hearing loss and people who are deafened or deaf – it signifies a struggle for a visible identity, and asserts an urgent and vital need for inclusion of quality captioning everyday and universally.[1]

Captioning inclusion? What are you talking about, cartoons?

We are talking about a disturbing gap in communication access for millions of people who cannot hear well or are deaf, who speak and most of whom do not use sign language. We are also speaking about captioning needs among millions of others with different language and learning needs. Captioning is a “language” that is way beyond one line of text under a photo, much more than a few words in a funny cartoon and is not merely a transcript or another page of text, but is an equivalent experience of listening via reading captioning. This is called equal access.

We are talking about inclusion of quality speech-to-text. Call it translation, interpreting, reporting, transcription or plain talking. Speech-to-text is the real-time conversion of speech and sounds to visual words, done with high accuracy and immediately. We need captioning when we speak together with others, in person or via media and technologies. Literacy is important in our lives, since the way we comprehend is to read words, rather than hear them; thus, captioning is vital as it is the way we receive language. Communication access is important in almost all of what we do in life.

It’s time to move away from the concept that so many of us are “dumb”, mute or daft or assume most people who are deaf or have a hearing loss use signing. We are deaf also – or live with hearing loss – and we speak and need captioning.

Don’t you read lips? …Why don’t you use sign language? …Did you turn on your hearing aids? …Don’t you know that implants cure deafness now?

Instead of those questions, it’s past time for us to be asked –

Is the captioning turned on? …Is the size and background readable for you? …Do you need a real-time verbatim captioning professional for communication access in school? … for job-hunting?… at work? …for medical consultations?…to listen to politicians for informed voting?…in the airport?…for social activities such as the theater and movies?

Is the automated captioning high quality? Are you guessing what half the sentences are due to errors? Is the automatic system making any sense at all? Do you need assistance in convincing public places to provide communication access? How can we promote more awareness and resources for all who need quality captioning?

Forty-eight million people have a hearing loss or deafness in the USA, with millions more around the world[2]. Most have established relationships that depend on oral communication, yet they do not hear enough to comprehend the many voices in everyday human experiences. Sometimes, it takes years to find captioning inclusion.

There has been some progress, yet it’s still patchy and slow. In many regions and most arenas of everyday life, it requires repeated requests, a legal assault or years of legislative discussion. A lot of the media on the Internet is not captioned.

Captioning is lacking at town meetings (real-time captioning), in schools, for weddings and funerals, in theaters and museums and for jury duty. The bottom line is a huge waste of educated, talented and creative citizens who are excluded due to lack of captioning inclusion.

Most people using aids, implants and other technologies also need captioning for much of everyday life, especially all group communications, in small to large groups, for training and employment, participation in their communities and much more.

Headlines tell us that boomers are living longer and teenagers are losing hearing due to loud music and noise in modern life. The news tells us about new systems and machine translations. Keep in mind these systems are for one person talking to his or her device. They are not useful for actual human conversations. Captioning professionals, along with improved systems, are required now, and always will be, for decades to come, due to the significance and variety of modern human communication needs.

Why spend the money? Why pay for electricity, clean water and ramps for mobility access? Communication access via captioning is a human right and a civil obligation.


Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC)

CCAC, created in December 2009, has grown into a membership organization of significant numbers. (It will become an official nonprofit later this year.) Volunteers advocate regularly, as well as educate the public via the website (http://ccacaptioning.org) and other CCAC resources. The focus is grass-roots advocacy for captioning where none exists now.

CCAC is not a deaf or hearing loss group, since captioning also provides bottom-line benefits for millions who are not deaf. It creates an immediate record (transcript), allows language translations and maximizes online search functions.

CCAC salutes all organizations working on captioning issues among larger diverse goals, and invites all to come together in the CCAC to share information, push forward more captioning advocacy and accomplish the mission – inclusion of quality captioning universally. CCAC is a hub and meeting place.

New members and concrete support are always welcome. CCAC advocacy accomplishments in two short years are significant, stemming from membership discussions in the online working community. For example, a huge national organization for older adults has begun inclusion of captioning for all webinars online thanks to CCAC member advocacy; and a regional theater accomplished inclusion via theater captioning thanks to energetic advocacy by another CCAC member with good local collaborations.

The newest CCAC advocacy project, the video above, makes its debut on this site. We invite you to place it on your own blogs and websites soon. If you do, let us know and we’ll say thanks. Don’t leave us out!


Lauren E. Storck, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Collaboration for Communication Access via Captioning (CCAC).

[1] For many people who identify as “Deaf,” signing is their primary language and vital to their communication. However, millions of deaf, deafened and people with hearing loss are left behind due to a general lack of awareness that they require captioning of their primary native language. More education is needed, with a common goal of more captioning for all. Add to this need the many others who use captioning for different reasons, and the result is an urgent plea for a greater provision of captioning training, inclusion and resources.

[2] http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/one_in_five_americans

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