“The television captions are ahead again” I told my family one evening as we were watching the PBS documentary Frontier House. Since it aired originally in 2002, I had expected the production value to be high, but in several of the episodes, the closed captions ran 30-60 seconds ahead, making them unusable. After a few starts and stops — turning the captions on and off, exiting and restarting the PBS app — we gave up. “That is frustrating,” my family replied calmly. We raised the volume and continued to watch.
But soon the sound went out. The video played but the audio was gone. Outrage ensued!
“How can we watch without the sound?” “I would have expected PBS to be better than this!” “Should we stop watching?” “This is so unfair!”
“Welcome to my world,” I said. “But this is the sound!” they replied.
Yes, but for people with hearing loss, captions are our sound.
Hearing Loss Is Not Well Understood
My family is incredibly supportive of me and my hearing loss. They pick restaurants based on acoustics, choose captioned content to stream so I can follow along, and do their best to use communication best practices like getting my attention before speaking. I am grateful for their efforts and their support.
But, obviously, they still don’t fully understand. How could they? Hearing loss is very difficult to comprehend if you haven’t experienced it yourself, yet as the family of an avid advocate for all things hearing loss related, I was disappointed that they considered captions a mere nice-to-have, while the sound was an imperative.
Maybe they are just not used to reading their way through a TV program. In fact, none of them noticed the timing problems with the captions until I mentioned it. I was surprised, especially because I know my husband likes to use the captions at theater productions. TV watching was different.
Report Television Captioning Issues So Fixes Can Be Made
Television captioning problems are fairly common, although, in my experience, most problems occur on live programs like the news or a sporting event. On pre-recorded content, captions tend to be better. No matter where I see captioning problems, I do my best to report them and you should too. Doing so allows the broadcaster or distributor to fix the issue for other viewers. Consistent problems with a particular show or network should also be referred to the appropriate agency.
Most captioning problems in the United States can be reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) using this form. Or reach out to the provider of the content directly. I registered a captions complaint on the PBS website. I hope I will hear back from them soon.
Today is the Best Time Yet to Have Hearing Loss
Watching Frontier House, even with its sound and captioning problems, reminded me how grateful I am to be facing the challenges of hearing loss today, rather than back in the 1880s on the American frontier. Or any other time in history, really.
Today, we enjoy cutting edge hearing aid technologies and the miracle of cochlear implants. There are a multitude of consumer devices, Hearables, and Apps that can assist us with communication. And more are coming to market every day.
The advent of OTC hearing aids in the United States will spur more products for people with hearing loss and generate increased access at a variety of price points. While FDA standard setting has been delayed due to the pandemic, my hope is that we will see these new products available some time next year. The future for living with hearing loss is bright.
Readers, do you read your way through television programs?