Closed Captioning Advocacy: Benefits vs. Accommodation

Updated: January 4, 2018

In the 3Play Media webinar The Future of Closed Captioning in Higher Education, an attendee posed this nuanced question to presenter Sean Zdenek:

Sometimes when people communicate the advantages of captioning for non-disabled students as a way to sell the idea, I think it can unintentionally send the message that providing access to deaf students is not enough reason in and of itself to caption.

How might we communicate these other benefits without inadvertently communicating that access for deaf people is not a good enough reason to caption?

This is an important question for all caption advocates to consider: how do you convince the non-disabled populace of the benefits of captioning video without devaluing the need for accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing people?

Sean Zdenek, the author of Reading Sounds, a book about closed captioning in media and pop culture, answered with this.

SEAN ZDENEK: When I was putting this presentation together, I wanted to be sensitive to the criticisms of this concept of rhetorical widening. I think Jay Dolmage and other rhetorical scholars have called out this practice.

Rhetorical widening is the idea that captioning only becomes valuable when mainstream audiences recognize its value.

I’m hearing and I cannot live without captions.

I have grappled with that a little bit.

That’s why in this presentation I refer to what I call the ‘primary stakeholders’ – deaf and hard of hearing viewers who truly need captioning.

I have an immediate family member who is deaf. This is the context for me. I think these are the most important stakeholders. It all has to sort of begin and end with them.

So I’m aware of some of the criticisms of rhetorical widening. I think universal design needs to go hand-in-hand with the recognition that as more students attend college, more students with disabilities attend college. And we need to make sure that we do as much as we can for them.

At the same time, I’m hearing and I cannot live without captions. I think there’s a way, perhaps, to embrace multiple audiences without losing sight of the important deaf and hard of hearing audience.

We want to know: why do you use closed captions? Are they necessary for you to understand what’s being said? Do they help you stay focused? Or do you just enjoy them?

Take this poll and see what other readers say:

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.