One of the many things I have missed during the quarantine is live theater — the heady feeling of anticipation as the audience falls silent and the show begins, the complex sets that bring a new world to life, and the actors who can make us feel something special night after night. I love the feeling of connectedness as the real world falls away, if only for a few hours. All the better when the performance is captioned, of course.
So it was with excitement that I sat down to watch Hamilton on television. Hamilton is one of my favorite Broadway shows. I love the variety of the music, the complex relationships among the characters and the incredibly detailed book. I have listened to the music more times than I can count, but watching Hamilton on TV with captions helped me discover nuances of the lyrics I had missed. The same was true for my husband, and his hearing is fine. The captions boosted our enjoyment since we were able to read along with the dialogue to catch every single word.
For me, captions are not just a way to increase enjoyment, they are a necessity. I require them to watch TV, for streaming movies and to participate fully on video conference calls. I instinctively look around for captions whenever I have trouble hearing, even when they are not likely to be there, like at a doctor’s office or at a store. Captions are so critical for me, I have learned to bring along my own via speech-to-text apps on my smartphone.
Captions Make Smart Business Sense
Smart design benefits everyone. This has been demonstrated countless times through things like ramps which not only assist people who use wheelchairs, but also provide access for parents pushing their children in a stroller or travelers with heavy luggage. Not only do people with a disability benefit from this simple design element, everyone does. In many ways, disability is a design opportunity. This is certainly true for captions.
In the Hamilton example, my husband benefited from the captions almost as much as I did. The same was true when we attended captioned theater performances pre-Covid. He loved having the captions available so whenever he missed something in the dialogue, he only needed to glance over at them to fill in the blanks. Captions also benefit non-native English speakers and people with sensory processing disorders.
In business meetings, captions increase attention rates and improve content recall. One of the speech-to-text apps often used by people with hearing loss, Otter.ai, was not created for that purpose. It was developed as a business tool, to provide automatic note-taking and transcript generation at meetings. Captions also help combat Zoom fatigue, so while I started a petition to urge Zoom to provide free auto captions on its platform for people with hearing loss, the truth is, everyone would benefit from free captions on Zoom.
Captions are Becoming More Popular
The good news is that hearing loss or not, captions are becoming more popular. A study by Verizon Media and Publicis Media showed that more consumers are watching videos on-the-go and in shared spaces, causing more people to embrace captioning than ever before. According to the study, 80% of people who use captions do not have hearing loss. Half of those surveyed said they like captions because it allows them to watch videos without sound.
Given all the benefits of captions, perhaps one day, they will be a required feature of all communication. I would certainly like to be in the room where that happens.
Readers, do you wish captions were more readily available?