Lack of captions a turn-off

Karli Dettman
Captions enable people who are Deaf to enjoy television programs. Captions help ensure people do not miss out on important information. Research has found nearly a third of Australians sometimes use captions. But not all programs on television are captioned. DiVine spoke to two men who use captions. They both think the Federal Government should make the television networks provide captions for every program.
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Karli Dettman on 24/03/2011
Two animated figures walking with a caption underneath in yellow that says "Let me help you" and a response of "Thank you".

Captions enable many people to enjoy television programs

Captions enable many people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to enjoy television programs. It is important that people who are Deaf or hard of hearing have access to the hearing world. This can include captions or having an Auslan interpreter at a meeting. But not all programs on television are captioned. We can miss out.

New research by The Australia Institute has found high use of television captions. 30 per cent of the Australian population sometimes use captions and three per cent always use them.

Standard practice

The results of the research prompted the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and Media Access Australia (MAA) to call on television networks to include captioning on all programs.

ACCAN Disability Policy Adviser Wayne Hawkins says some programs are currently being screened without captions even though captions are available. Good quality, timely captions mean that people who are Deaf or hearing impaired can watch television like everyone else, says Mr Hawkins. We’d like to see all programs captioned as standard practice.

Fast jumble

DiVine spoke to two people who use captions for their views and experiences.

Don has hearing loss and watches about five hours of television a day. Don says he typically understands what is said on news and current affairs programs because the presenters speak clearly.

But Don complains that many actors speak badly. They just mumble, says Don. Some actors don’t have a clue how to talk. (It’s) just a fast jumble of words running into each other. Don turns captions on for any programs or DVDs that he cannot understand.

Improve the quality

John was born Deaf and always uses captions when watching television or DVDs. John says all programs and DVDs should have captions.  He recalls watching many TV programs when he was a child but was not able to follow them.

John would also like the quality of captions to be improved. He complains that live captions are often jerky and uncoordinated. He also finds it disappointing when words are censored or changed, such as swearing.

Both Don and John believe the Federal Government should make it mandatory for all television programs and DVDs to have captions. Don says he is pleased that the switch to digital television has enabled more captioning.

Worth watching

I watch very little television. I only turn the television on if there is a good program worth watching. For example, last year there was a documentary called How to Have Sex After Marriage.  As a relationship counsellor who wants to keep learning how to make marriage work, I was interested to watch it.  I know many marriages need to have better communication and more romance.

But the program did not have captions. I missed out on the information the documentary contained. I had to research the topic on the internet and books instead. We should not be missing out.


What do you think of the quality of captions on television? Are there programs you would like to watch that don’t currently have captions? Let us know in the comments section below.

Readers comments (3)

An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority recently found Channel 9 breached their licence conditions by failing to provide a captioning service.

Today 9 has agreed to put in place an independent audit system to prevent future breaches - a good development.

I was born with normal hearing but started loosing my hearing in late primary school. I have a genetic progresive hearing loss which is difficult to aid as it involves the mid frequencies leaving my high frequencies intact. I'm now in my 40's and most television shows are impossible to understand without captions. I have a headset that helps but I still miss out on so much. I heavily rely on captions and it is dissapointing when I miss out due to lack of captions.

I don't watch much TV and I would not call myself hearing-impaired. However, a spin-off from my disability is that I have difficulty understanding with background noise and when people speak quickly. These two things happen on TV programs. I therefore use captions as often as I can. So it is not the strictly hearing-impaired they are beneficial to.

Media watch on the ABC had a very interesting segment on networks and captioning a few weeks ago. It may be still available on their website.

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