Hamilton Shows Why Captions Enhance Viewing Pleasure for All

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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?

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18 thoughts on “Hamilton Shows Why Captions Enhance Viewing Pleasure for All”

  1. In 2015, Dr. Morton Ann Gernsbacher, a professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, published an article in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences entitled, “Video captions benefit everyone.” In it, she reviewed more than one hundred studies on the benefits of video captioning and found that captioning “improves comprehension of, attention to, and memory for the video” for people of all ages and hearing ability.

    Many Broadway shows offer occasional captioned performances through the Theater Accessibility Program (TAP) of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) in New York. Captions are shown on a screen on one side of the theater, and discounted tickets in the orchestra section closest to the screen are made available to TAP members with hearing loss. As a TAP member, I receive an email when these seats go on sale. Several years ago, we were able to get tickets to a captioned performance of Hamilton- orchestra seats for $89. Hamilton is very difficult, even for people with normal hearing. When we went, I noticed that there were many people in the audience who did not have hearing aids who were following the captions. I had read the lyrics in advance, but even so, would not have been able to follow the words without being able to read the captions.

    For Hamilton, these seats sell out within minutes of becoming available. For other shows, you don’t have to be quite as fast. In addition to the Broadway shows we have seen this way, we have seen many Shakespeare in the Park performances, which are free, but with this service we don’t have to wait for hours in Central Park. I’m not sure what the future holds for TAP because there is now an app, Gala Pro, which allows you to read captions on your phone for most Broadway shows as well as some off-Broadway. Although Gala Pro is a terrific addition for people with hearing loss, I much prefer viewing the captions on a screen next to the stage rather than having to look down at my phone or at a theater-provided device that is slightly bigger. I look forward to the day when there will again be theater.

    Jon Taylor

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing the article. Sounds fascinating. Fingers crossed live theater will be back next spring. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I am in love with captions! I feel very lucky to live in a time when the technology explosion in our lives has definitely led to amazing devices that can augment our ability to hear. My husband and I have learned to make our television completely caption-compliant. Every show we watch (including the marvelous “Hamilton”) comes with captions automatically!

    Special eyeglasses available in movie theaters enable us to appreciate individually what the characters onscreen are saying. (Especially useful during British films!)

    But sometimes one piece of technology compromises another. During the very fine virtual programs hosted by the Hearing Loss Association of America, the use of the Chat device interferes with other participants’ ability to read the captions. In this case, the use of Chat by some enthusiastic participants is challenging to those of us trying to understand what the guest speaker(s) are saying! Sometimes it feels like there are two meetings going on at the same time. I wonder if other organizations and businesses have to deal with this, too.

    One other observation: I look forward to the day when televised news reports will be better coordinated with their captioners’ abilities. Of course, these live news reports cannot be filmed in advance. The reporters speak so fast that even professional captioners cannot keep up with them!

    Thanks again for your wonderful, helpful blogs, Shari.

    From Phyllis Hersh in Baltimore

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I agree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Sherr
    At (NTID) National Technical Institute for the Deaf) which is part of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) there was a captioned class of students from both schools. Shortly after the class started (for some reason I forget) all of the NTID students had to drop out. So management dropped the captions. The RIT students said : no way, we want the captions.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Interesting! Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. I don’t fly now due to the Covid-19, but I would love the airline industry to make captions available when I watch movies in the air. Why are the airlines still not accessible in the 21st Century? Even when I wear over the ear headphones with my hearing aid, I still can’t hear well out of my bad ear. This makes it hard to enjoy in-flight entertainment on a long flight.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I agree. Some airlines are doing this on some of the content but it should be for all. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Yes, captions need to be available on demand, and yes, many people beyond those who are hearing impaired use them. I envy Mr. Taylor’s ability to take advantage of Broadway shows with TAP as Chicago theaters do not provide the same. (And Chicago is quite a theater town!) I must add that I greatly prefer caption boxes at a movie theater. The glasses typically display the captions in bright green or yellow, colors that fade into scenes set on sunny days. Since I wear both regular glasses and BTEs, caption glasses aren’t comfortable, either. BTW, you’ve suggested many speech-to-text apps. in your experience, which one is the best with an Android phone? I’m thinking I should add one. Thanks.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      For Android I like Google’s Live Transcribe but try a few and see what works best for you. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Captions! That was the first thing I posted on Facebook when I found out Hamilton was broadcasting on TV. I had seen it at the Kennedy Center and it was magnificent. But as you said, you miss so much. Even with loops and Bluetooth technology it’s not the same as seeing the written word.
    Today was my first day back in the office after 4 months since the pandemic crisis started. Between the stresses related to COVID-19 and the issues due to being severely hearing impaired, I am exhausted. I wish I had a scrolling CC ribbon at my desk similar to the one that’s at Rockefeller Center displaying the news!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      That would be a nice thing. A speech-to-text app might help. Have you tried one? Good luck being back at work. Thank you for your comment.

  7. I am a Senior that is new to your blog but I would like to give my opinion about captions. My TV allows captions to be turned on for most programming. However, for newscasts or other live programming, the captioners cannot keep up and the several seconds delay, as well as errors, can be quite annoying. I found that the Otter app on my phone provides instant captioning and in many cases is more accurate than a live captioner, although some captioners are better than others. Ironically, in a “60 Minutes” TV show I saw last Sunday, the captions were about 5 seconds AHEAD of what was being said, which was just as annoying.

    It seems that with today’s technology (e.g. software similar to Otter), the Broadcasters should be able to have captions perfectly synchronized. Theoretically, it should not be a problem with prerecorded shows but yet, in some cases, it is. Perhaps all Broadcasters need to have a person with severe hearing problems be in charge of arranging captions as they would understand what the millions of people with hearing problems have to endure. If there was a concerted effort to contact Broadcasters to make them aware of the problem, something would be done. Shari, would you be willing to spearhead that effort? Thanks.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      HLAA is already working with the FCC to help improve and enforce rules for TV captions. If you experience an issue, it is important to report the issue to the FCC. Here is the link. https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/requests/new?ticket_form_id=36040 Thank you for raising this important issue.

  8. I enjoy watching this. As a Hard of Hearing person Captions is truly the best for me. I watch it with my brother who hears very well. We both enjoy it and he said it was nice to be able to read along with the cast. I wish all shows were Captioned.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Me too! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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