On July 20, 1969, the United States defined history in space by having Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong land on the moon. While history was being watched all over the world and our astronauts were 238,900 miles away from home, people with hearing disabilities were missing out. The lack of captioning on the television set meant that deaf people did not get access to the historical events and information happening before their eyes! One small step for man, one giant setback for those with hearing disabilities. Can you imagine how many other historical events people with hearing disabilities like me have missed because of barriers in communication?
As a little kid, I would remember waking up earlier on Saturday mornings and climbing into my parents' bed to catch my favorite show on tv. I would sit in my silent world, not yet turning my cochlear implant on, and watching the show with the captions turned on, my eyes peeled on the captions and on what the next battle would be for the Power Rangers, hopeful they would win no matter what. As an adult, I can’t help but imagine what the journey was like for our community on the discovery of closed captioning.
The Television Decoder Circuitry Act went into effect on July 1, 1993. The essence of this law states, “that all TV receivers with picture screens 13 inches or larger manufactured or imported for use in the United States have built-in decoder circuitry to display closed captions.” The importance of this act means that closed captioning will provide access to 24 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing. They will be able to get access to their favorite shows, movies, or sports games and no longer be left out.
If the last couple of years has taught us anything, life still has room for improvement. The pandemic has forced us to be home for work/school and connect online over Zoom. But not all of us had access to closed captioning over Zoom’s Communications. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing were forced to either rely on lip-reading or have a hard time following along. This puts them at risk of possibly losing their jobs if they can’t keep up their performances or pay a fee of up to $200 per hour for a real-time captioner or higher for closed captioning. This action led to a lawsuit for not providing free access to those who need it via AI-generated captioning. The Lawsuit Against Zoom Claims Closed Captioning Surcharges Discriminates Against Deaf Users states, “the video communications provider has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by barring hearing-impaired users from full and equal enjoyment of its services and a meaningful opportunity to benefit from such without paying a surcharge—discrimination the case says is “particularly acute” during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Zoom’s communication team barred the deaf culture from having closed captioning in a time of need.
My hope for the future is that there will be an adaptation to The Television Decoder Circuitry Act to make captions free on all platforms whether the person is deaf, hard of hearing, or neither. Closed captions should be free for all to use for watching or even editing videos. Those who have a large following on social media but have to download other apps and take the extra time to make captions shouldn’t have to go through all of that. I believe it can be as simple as clicking a button regardless of the platform the user is performing on and have it be done in minutes rather than hours or days. We have the world's greatest scientist to send people to the moon but can not make closed captions as easy as they should be and that’s not ok!