“Captions are the Wheelchair Ramp for the Deaf”

A year or so ago at a meeting on the challenge of global hearing loss, one of my fellow presenters, Catharine McMahon, head of the Department of Linguistics at MacQuarie University in Sydney Australia, said something that has stuck with me:

“The challenge of disability should become society’s challenge. Change the environment, not the Individual:

  • “Rather than focus on the individual as having a problem and expecting the individual to address the problem, it is society’s role to reduce the overall disability through accessibility of spoken information and communication.”

The most direct form of accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing is captioning. “Captions are the wheelchair ramp for the deaf,” as the author Arlene Romoff wrote.

Not all captions are equal.

A timely essay in the New York Times, by Sara Novic, an instructor in Deaf Studies at Stockton University in New Jersey, addressed accessibility.

In Don’t Fear A Deafer Planet, she wrote:

“Closed captioning is an inexpensive and widely available technology. Since listening and speech-reading is largely dependent on context and atmospheric conditions — for example, whether there is background noise — even those of the projected 2.5 billion people experiencing mild degrees of hearing loss are likely to benefit from captioned material. Still, content on many websites, video applications and social media platforms remains uncaptioned. Even theaters often choose to forgo open captions, instead employing retrofitted “solutions” that overcomplicate and underperform.”

The New York City Council is currently considering INT. 2020, an ordinance that would require cinemas to show open-captioned movies on a regular basis. Not all the time, as Novic is proposing – that’s too big a hurdle right now. But open-captioned screenings of every movie showing at a particular theater every day. You can support the bill by emailing or calling N.Y. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s legislative director: Jeffrey Baker, 212 482-5457. Or email jbaker@council.nyc.gov.

You can also sign a change.org petition in favor of open-captioned movies, at Movie Theaters — Captions (Subtitles) are Healthier for Everyone.


For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.

16 thoughts on ““Captions are the Wheelchair Ramp for the Deaf”

  1. While movies is nice, it’s not the most important captioning. Why? Because we can wait a month to watch it on giant TVs at home w captioning. In 2021 the imperative is online captioning.
    Too many video platforms don’t even offer it. Rumble is example. They say they are working to add it. Thousands of home videos on every topic don’t have cc.
    I speak about this daily online. Why does everything have to be regulated? Does no one just do the right thing anymore? Everyone knows it is mandated for television, so why not do it for all internet videos before you are forced to? And why haven’t senators and representatives created that bill? Internet has been here 26 years- enough time I’d say. It is heavily used more than movies, but we still have to beg. I do beg and others with me to no avail. If they want my business they will add captioning to their product review.


  2. Good article here and on CODA, Katherine. I (Fred) have bilateral cochlear implants, but would be lost without captions, sometimes on my iPhone. And you are right that captions are still missing in many likely places.
    We’ve seen CODA three times now and love it. We thought about how Marlee’s CODA movie family would have benefitted from captions on a cell phone.
    Fred and Pat Williams

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like wheelchair ramps, captions have all sorts of uses besides allowing the deaf and hard of hearing to understand speech, just as ramps are useful not only for people with mobility issues but for parents with strollers, workmen with hand trucks…. I could go on and on.


  3. Captions are very important because they help children improve their reading skills and those learning English as their second language.


  4. This is not all about PWHL (People with Hearing Loss): As an ESL (English as a Second Language) person I love, love, LOVE captions and rarely visit the movie theaters because I miss too much of the dialogue with the background music and sound effects. I simply wait until the movie is shown on Netflix of Hulu. For this reason I support open captions in movie theaters 100% percent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too! But thank goodness for Netflix and AppleTV and Amazon Prime and all those other outlets showing captioned material. I started using captions back when my son was watching The Wire (now 15 years ago?). Even he appreciated the captions.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Since I’ve had hearing loss I like to put captions on many of my song videos. A songwriting friend, Rob Siegel, just sent me his new song, and if you click on the “cc” button along the bottom, the captions pop on as he sings. He’s a wonderful songwriter/storyteller — I think you’ll dig this —

    “The Duck Pond” by Rob Siegel


  6. I just made a new captioned version of the video I created for Jimmy Webb and Michael Feinstein. On December 18, 2021 the James Webb Space Telescope is being launched, and will continue the work of the Hubble Telescope, but with a collecting mirror FIVE TIMES BIGGER than that of the Hubble.

    Jimmy Webb and the late James Webb are not related, but obviously share a love of the sky above us. Enjoy!

    “Up Up & Away” written by Jimmy Webb, sung by Michael Feinstein, video by Christine Lavin


    • OOps! Wrong video!! I don’t know how to fix this — so I’ll post the one I meant to post (though any fans of Willa Cather will like this video, but it’s not captioned).

      Here’s Up Up & Away:


Please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s