Who Uses Closed Captions? Not Just the Deaf or Hard of Hearing

August 28, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: June 3, 2019

In the UK, “subtitles” are equivalent to what we would refer to in America as “closed captions” or “subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH).” That is, the timed-text displayed on video that includes both speech and essential non-speech sounds.

In this post, we will use the terms “closed captions” and “subtitles” interchangeably.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom), the regulatory body for UK television broadcasting, conducted a study of subtitle use by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The 2006 research study was prompted by the passage of the Communications Act of 2003, which set forth subtitling quotas for UK broadcast television and required data to prove how such accommodations are helpful to viewers with disabilities.

The pleasant surprise?

Many television viewers benefit from subtitles even if they are not hard of hearing.

Ofcom Subtitle Study Results

The Ofcom study aimed to model user benefits, usage, and preferences for access services, collecting stats about user awareness of closed captioning and the number of people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing.

80% of Closed Caption Viewers Are Not Hard of Hearing

Ofcom found that 7.5 million people in the UK (18% of the population) used closed captions: of that 7.5 million, only 1.5 million were deaf or hard of hearing.

This suggests that 80% of television viewers used closed captions for reasons other than hearing loss, and that closed captions benefit many more than just those who require them for accessibility.

When Ofcom asked participants why they use subtitles, it found that “subtitles were regarded as generally very effective in making programmes understood.”

BBC News Says Everyone Can Benefit from Closed Captions

In 2006, the BBC referenced the Ofcom study and suggested that the average TV viewer could benefit from closed captions, particularly as the nature of video changes.

With the dominance of reality TV, dialogue is becoming less articulate and more unscripted. Because of that, closed captions could improve comprehension for all viewers.

Why Viewers Who Are Not Hard of Hearing Use Closed Captions

The Ofcom study clearly indicates that once a user is aware of closed captions, their usefulness is universal. Here are just a few examples of the benefits of subtitles:

  • Viewers who know English as a second language benefit from closed captions, because they make it easier to follow along with the speech.
  • Closed captions help with comprehension of dialogue that is spoken very quickly, with accents, mumbling, or background noise.
  • Video that mentions full names, brand names, or technical terminology provides clarity for the viewer.
  • Closed captions help maintain concentration, which can provide a better experience for viewers with learning disabilities, attention deficits, or autism.
  • Online videos with subtitles enjoy higher user engagement and better user experience
  • Captions allow viewers to watch videos in sound-sensitive environments, like offices and libraries.

Not convinced that your videos need closed captions? Check out:

8 Benefits of Transcribing & Captioning Online Video

This post was originally published on May 27, 2014 as “Ofcom Study: 80% of People Who Use Closed Captions Are Not Hard of Hearing” and has been updated.

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