Captioning and Video Accessibility

The issue
Video programming — whether it is television programming, movies, videotapes/DVDs, webcasts, or other technology — is not fully accessible to Deaf people.

CAD-ASC’s position
Quality captioning (open or closed) or Sign language interpreting should be mandatory for all programming and is achievable immediately.

The technology to provide efficient and economic captioning of all programming exists now, regardless of the medium used (websites, YouTube, DVD’s, Blu-Ray discs, traditional television, home-made video productions, webcasts, video-on-demand, downloads, traditional movie theatres…) Not providing it is discriminatory and in violation of equality laws and accessibility legislation, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Alleged financial barriers to full captioning are nonsense. Reasonably good captioning software can be downloaded from the Internet for free! The costs of captioning are a minuscule portion of overall production costs. Treating the costs of captioning as a “frill” to be undertaken only if there is money left over after production is irresponsible and inappropriate.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada has long maintained that captioning is not merely “a Deaf issue”. The potential captioning audience is not limited to the 340,000 Deaf people in this country. There are 3.15 million hard of hearing Canadians who may also benefit from captioning. Captioning has been proven to improve the reading and writing of people who have low literacy skills: there are 6.5 million functionally illiterate Canadians. Children learn language through the kind of exposure provided by captions. Immigrants who know neither English nor French can utilize captioning to assist them in learning one or the other language. Anyone who knows one of Canada’s official languages and wishes to learn or improve skills in the other language can use captioning to this end.

Thus, a conservative estimate would be that over 10 million Canadians — more than one-third of the total population — can benefit from captioning.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada considers it unacceptable that after more than 30 years of captioning in Canada, the broadcasters of this country have still not attained the objective of fully captioned programming. We note that the regulatory agency (CRTC) has finally begun treating captioning as an integral part of television programming; we applaud the agency. It took 30 years, but our message has finally gotten through to them!

The CRTC is cautiously addressing the issue of accessible on-line content, including downloads of television programs and movies, and the websites of television licencees. There are difficulties in defining the CRTC’s jurisdiction in this regard, and it would be impossible for any regulatory agency to enforce accessibility standards on the Internet video productions of private companies and individuals around the world. The CRTC can, however, in our opinion, require licenced Canadian broadcasters to fully caption all of the content of its websites, including breaking news. The CRTC has indicated in recent proceedings and in discussions that the broadcasters have confirmed the technology for captioning TV programming on-line is now technologically feasible and they intend to increase their captioned on-line content beginning in the year 2016.

The quality of captioning remains a concern. Increasing reliance upon voice-recognition technology has led to an increase in poor quality captioning. The use of remote captioners and even foreign/off-shore captioners has resulted in time delays; the industry’s stated target of a maximum three-second delay is completely unacceptable, and frequently unattainable. Having an on-site captioner provides a much better possibility of achieving true synchronicity.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada worked with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to develop national standards for captioning. It must be stressed, however, that that organization submitted the final draft of the standards in opposition to the CAD-ASC and the other consumer groups. The CRTC has adopted these standards but the standards do not have the validity of consumer approval.

French-language captioning has always lagged behind English-language captioning in its development. The technology for expert French captioning has now caught up to English captioning; once again, there is no longer any excuse not to provide high-quality French captioning for all programming on French-language channels. CAD-ASC maintains that French-language audiences should have access to captioned programming that is fully equal to English-language access in both quantity and quality.

If programming is provided without captioning, there should be a discount or reduction in fees for captioning consumers. It is unjust to charge us the same prices as hearing viewers if we are getting significantly less accessible programming.

The technology is constantly evolving; unfortunately, ensuring that the programming (content) remains accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing audiences is a low priority for those in the industry. Some broadcast distribution undertakings (e.g., cable companies) continue to use set-top boxes that interfere with captioning in various ways. The set-top box may prevent the TV set from controlling the captions – sometimes completely and sometimes only partially. There may be technical problems that result in the captions being scrambled, their size and fonts being changed, etc. because of interference from the set-top box. If a set-top box is going to be allowed to deal with captioning, then it should provide features that are either equivalent to or better than what the TV sets provide.

TV sets and set-top boxes do not provide adequate information as to how they deal with captions. There is no convenient way for Deaf customers to find out before they purchase – the only way is to take it home and find out by trial and error. Full descriptions should be provided before purchase and convenient demonstrations should be available.

APPROVED: 3 JULY 2015

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3
(613) 565-2882
www.cad.ca