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

January 17, 2020 BY SAMANTHA SAULD
Updated: January 22, 2020

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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.

In the UK, “subtitles” are equivalent to what we would refer to in the United States 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 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.

 Learn The Benefits of Captioning ➡️ 

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%, or 6 million viewers who use closed captions are not deaf or hard of hearing as opposed to 20% or 1.5 million viewers who are deaf or 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 Captions8 benefits of captioning and transcription for your videos. Download the guide

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, the 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 this free guide 👇

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This post was originally published on August 28, 2015, by Emily Griffin, as “Ofcom Study: 80% of People Who Use Closed Captions Are Not Hard of Hearing” and has been updated.

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