I’ve never thought much about closed captions. As an interpreter, I tend to think most about how best to provide interpreting services into ASL instead of providing print or a transcript. Plus, closed captions are no substitute for your native language. How about YOU try reading captions for an hour and a half movie. Not so easy. And in my experience with Deaf youth, the speed and fluency of their English print literacy isn’t developed enough to make captions more than colloquial sentences at ultra-sonic speed. But today I ran into the problem of closed captions in force.
I regularly assign a video from a PBS-produced series called E2 Design. The video describes Bogotá’s excellent improvements for public busses, pedestrian ways, and bicycle paths. It’s a great video for seeing positive change in Latin America. This semester I have a student that would benefit greatly from captions. (In fact, probably most ESL students would benefit from English captions, because the Spanish-inflected English can be hard to understand on the video.) The DVD has captions. But where this video is available online – the PBS website, YouTube, etc. – there are no captions. Bummer. And the technological journey I’ve had this afternoon trying to get captions has been mind-numbingly frustrating.
I am aware that there are other ways of solving this problem that might involve less of my own time. But I decided to try an experiment: what if I really needed captioning and I – a tech-savvy 30-something with an advanced degree – am the only one available to figure it out? Result? No way, José. With all the security features of the DVD I can’t screen-record the captions to make a digitally-available video. The phone number at PBS for captioning services tells you up front that you won’t get a response from them. No other captions were forthcoming anywhere, not even a transcript of the dialogue.
I found a work-around and I can get the student what he or she needs. But at the end of the day I’ve been changed. First, I’m a little miffed at PBS for sucking at the online captioning thing. C’mon – the technology is readily available. Second, I’m determined to be more vocal about making sure that closed captioning is provided with web-based content, for everyone’s benefit.