Research continues to show how much the general population loves captions. So why are they still so misunderstood—confused with a recording device at a recent Broadway show and mocked by television presenters when used for an interview.
Perhaps it is partially due to the age of the beholder. A new study by language learning app Preply confirms what many people with hearing loss already know: captions are terrific! But surprisingly, they are most admired and utilized by younger generations. This trend provides hope for the future—increased demand for captioning will benefit all of us—but continued worries that near term challenges remain.
Study Shows People are Using Captions More Often
Preplay’s survey of 1,200 Americans showed heavy subtitle use, with at least 89% of respondents saying they have used subtitles in the past.
The main reasons for using subtitles included
- muddled audio (75%)
- difficult to understand accents (61%)
- because they like to stream quietly to avoid disturbing others (29%) and
- to keep focused (27%).
53% of respondents indicated they are using captions more often.
- 78% said louder background music makes it harder to hear dialogue
- 55% felt it is harder to hear dialogue than it was before
- 44% thought the visuals of recent productions are not as well lit so harder to follow
- 35% said actors and TV personalities speak faster than they used to.
Captions Most Popular with Younger Generations
Interestingly, captions are most popular among younger generations. Gen Z (aged 10-25) are the most frequent users at 70%, followed by Millennials (aged 26-41) at 53%. Older respondents, such as Gen X (aged 42-57) and Baby Boomers (aged 58-67) were the groups least likely to use subtitles often at 38% and 35% respectively.
Perhaps this explains some of the recent misunderstandings surrounding the use of captions in public spaces.
Captioning Device Mistaken for a Recording Device
A Broadway actress publicly called out an audience member in the first row who was using a captioning device thinking it was a recording device. This incident highlights the need for more education in theater about accessibility devices.
I’ve used GalaPro on my smartphone for captions at Broadway shows for several years with no issue. I always let my seat-mates know I will be using my phone during the show for captioning (to avoid any mid-show misunderstandings) and people are usually interested in learning more. I sometimes even see them peeking over at the captions if they miss something!
The theater involved in this particular incident does not offer GalaPro. Instead, you must pick up a theater-specific captioning device. Even so, a slight alteration to the “turn off your cellphone announcement” could be a simple solution to the problem.
“Turn off your cellphones and other electronic devices unless you are using them for captioning or audio description,” would alert both performers and attendees that these types of devices are available and in-use.
Caption-User Mocked by Television Presenter
The Democratic nominee for Senate from Pennsylvania was criticized and demeaned by a television personality for using closed-captioning for his on-air interview. Recovering from a stroke, the candidate used the captions to help him process the questions. Yet some used this to question his mental fitness and capacity for office. Heavy sigh.
The good news is that many advocates and others in the media quickly jumped to his defense. Using accessibility measures like captions does not mean you are unfit, it means you are strategic and will use all the tools at your disposal to get the job done.
More Education About Captioning is Needed
Missteps like those described above highlight the continued need for education about captioning, but there is good news on the horizon. By the time Gen Z is on Broadway and hosting network news programs, perhaps the stigma will finally have withered away.
Readers, how often do you use captions?