Deaf Viewers Push For Mandatory Captions For Web Video

Actress Marlee Matlin and other deaf web surfers are pushing for mandatory captions on web video. In the 1996, Congress required most television shows to have captions. However, since the rise of web video, deaf viewers have been disappointed to find that many of their favorite television shows are broadcast on the Internet caption-free. Change is coming, but it’s coming slowly for advocates of the hearing impaired. Read more about the battle for captions after the jump.

Marlee Matlin began her fight for captions on the web about two years ago, after she participated in ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars.” According to Brian Stelter of The New York Times, Matlin went to to watch the show and discovered that the captions were missing. Stelter writes, “Closed-captioning is mandatory on television, but not for TV programs on the Internet. And that has turned Web sites like into battlegrounds for advocates like Ms. Matlin, who have spoken up on the lack of captions on sites like and services like Netflix.” has begun applying captions to reruns of “Dancing With The Stars” and other networks are offering captions as well. For instance, ESPN has captions on its World Cup live streams. However, surprisingly there is still no closed-captioning on television episodes, news clips or video entertainment content.

While big television networks like CNN, CBS and ABC have been slot on the draw to add closed-captioning online, many online web video sites are striving to make their content more accessible through closed-captions. YouTube, for instance, now offers captions on all new videos. If the video is in English and the audio track is clear, captions are created using voice-recognition technology. Although the captioning is not perfect with this technology, it is a huge leap forward for the hearing-impaired. Netflix is also working to add closed captioning to its library of television shows and Hulu is pressuring it’s suppliers to offer more captions in their video content.

The reason that many sites are starting to add captions comes as a response to a hearing on the 1996 closed-captioning bill last month. The update could potential make captioning on web video a law. Advocates are becoming more and more vocal about captions for web video and it seems only a matter of time until captions will become standard.

It will be a major task to begin captioning all of the video on the web. However, perhaps YouTube’s captioning software will be a start. Ken Harrenstien, a deaf software engineer that is heading up YouTube’s auto-captioning project, told the NY Times, “Only a tiny percentage of the world’s videos are captioned, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Do you know any hearing impaired individuals who have struggled with watching web video caption free? Do you think closed captioning should be mandatory on the web?

Recommended articles