Current Events: Captioning Sucks!

Posted: April 07, 2008 Comments(2)

Joe Clark, along with his accessibility research project the Open & Closed Project, has pushed live Captioning Sucks!, a website devoted to spotlighting the terrible condition of captions in broadcasting. A major goal of the website is simply to:

  1. To get people talking about just how lousy captioning really is.
  2. To alert people to the fact that there is a solution on the horizon – the Open & Closed Project.

To achieve the first goal, we wanted to snap people out of their denial – that things are really just fine because most TV shows and most home videos have captioning. (“Most” is not “all,” and the quality sucks.)

The efforts of Joe Clark and the Open & Closed Project are completely admirable, and they’re asking for our help.

During a presentation at An Event Apart San Francisco on October 4th, 2007, Joe Clark extensively noted his hatred for captioning online. After reading through his extensive documentation, it is obvious that captioning online is in a terrible state.

Through his presentation, Mr. Clark took the time to explain some background information, such as the difference between subtitling and captioning, the various kinds of captioning on television in the U.S. and Canada, and a brief history on the (lack of) captioning on the Web. He notes that captioning was never intended to be brought to the Web, and any current ‘implementations’ are shoddy at best due to a number of reasons.

Joe Continued his landmark presentation with a number of supportive examples, and he concluded with the following statement:

I hate online captioning because it sucks compared to real captioning. There isn’t enough of it, it’s technically too complicated, closed captioning is the wrong idea in the first place, and every aspect of the execution is lousy. was launched to spread awareness on this specific issue, and it’s doing just that. The site was established as “a way to build interest among the general public in the Project’s main task – to research, write, and test a set of standards for captioning (and a few other things).”

Please take some time to read more about and try to get involved wherever you can, whether it be a financial or intellectual contribution, every little bit helps.

The Open & Closed Project

For four years, Joe Clark has been putting together the Open & Closed Project;

  1. Write a set of standards (how-to manuals) for four fields of accessibility – captioning, audio description, subtitling, and dubbing. (This is not Web accessibility except to the extent that Web sites use multimedia with one or more of those features.) The standards will be based on evidence and research. Where either of those is missing, we’ll carry it out ourselves. It will take four years to write the standards, which will be done in an open process. (Again, this is not Web accessibility. It also isn’t the WCAG Samurai.) Then we’ll test them for a year and fix whatever doesn’t work. The published standards will not be open-source or public-domain, but will be freely downloadable (and available in print and other formats at a cost).
  2. Next, we’ll develop training and certification programs. At that point, it will finally be possible to go to school to become a certified practitioner of captioning, audio description, subtitling, or dubbing, and it will also be possible for TV networks, movie studios, producers and distributors, and regulators to require accessibility services to be Open & Closed Project–certified.
  3. We’re also going to work on a universal file format for the four fields of accessibility, which has been attempted several times before with no success.
  4. We’ll design and test new fonts for captioning and subtitling. In fact, that activity is already underway and has been for nearly two years.

The goals of the Open & Closed project are nothing short of mountainous, and they’re looking for participants to help. There is extensive information available on participation in the project, with a major focus on achieving ‘a level of openness unparalleled in standards development’. If you’d like to find out more, be sure to take a look at the Open & Closed Project website.

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  1. August 23rd, 2008
    I was working as a closed captioner until the CTV (Canadian network) closed down our post-captioning department and set up a system for live captioning. I wouldn’t mind so much if the captioning was anywhere near making any sense at all but it is lousy and next to useless. My husband has to give up watching tv because it is so bad it only frustrates him. I know that the networks only care about the law and have no concern for the quality of the captioning they put out. When I was a captioner, they never said one word about errors because they did not care. They left it to us and personal pride made sure our programs went out clean with few errors. I am so disgusted with the whole system.

    When they closed down CTV captioning department, my friend went to City tv where she worked for five years. CTV bought City and the same guy that closed down our department showed up to close down City’s. What I don’t understand is that the live captioners make so much more money than the post-captioners, who are only typists. They actually have to spend much more money to live caption a show. Our jobs at CTV were temporary so they didn’t have to pay benefits. We were cheap. Why would they choose to spend more money on such shoddy product? Can you enlighten me? Anyway, I am angry, you can add me to your list. Thanks for listening. Regards, Lynn Barnett

  2. They didn’t close down the Citytv captioning department. They just doubled our workload without hiring extra staff, so that we no longer have the time to screen each other’s work for errors.

    Also, they gave our office space to someone else, so now we all work from home and can only communicate with each other by e-mail.

    And we’ve been told to stop using the Canadian broadcast standards for quality captioning, because that takes too long.

    But we’re still here.

    Sort of.

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