Say What?

By: Erin Rose Hennessy 

Some people are surprised when they find out I’m hard of hearing. Usually it comes up because I haven’t heard something, and have to ask for repetition. Most people are very understanding and accommodating, although I did once deal with a woman who had to be told and reminded four times that I was hard of hearing before she stopped complaining that I “wasn’t listening.” Hard to listen when you don’t know you’re supposed to be listening in the first place, eh? I also had one person in high school tell me to “listen better” when told I was hard of hearing. Yeah, I’ll get right on that after I cure world hunger.

I’m not sure who wasn’t listening in those scenarios…..

Another big failure to understand the actual problem comes in the world of closed captioning and subtitles. I touched on the subject in a blog post on being hard of hearing. Yes, they are different. I repeat, they are not interchangeable. Both are annoying in their own ways.

Closed captioning is usually turned on the television itself. It’s usually black background and white words. Closed captioning shows everything, not just dialogue. It doesn’t just say “Catch the ball, Sally!” it also tells viewers (Sally grunts with effort) “You should be in the minor league with that arm, Janie.” It tells us the ambient noises and pertinent background information. My favorite part is that it also translates music, so I can sing along!

Subtitles are kind of boring in comparison. Usually one color, with no background. They just translate dialogue. That’s it. No (distant rumbling sounds) to let us know the tsunami is coming.

I love that some movies and even Netflix have become more thoughtful in what they include in their “subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing”, because I missed singing along to television show themes! They now let us know that tsunami is coming, which was a nice warning for this HSP watching The Impossible last weekend.

Two of my biggest pet peeves about closed captioning and subtitles are
Live closed captioning. This usually covers the news, sporting events, and presidential addresses. The problem for me is that I am hard of hearing and can still hear the words as they are spoken. Which means, I am reading and hearing at the same moment, which is why they need to match up. Live closed captioning is a feed. The words turn up 10-15 seconds after they are spoken, and sorry I’ve already lost interest and I’ll read the news online later. 

Delayed captioning. In the same vein, sometimes when watching things (I’m looking at you, Netflix), the sound loads faster than the picture. Which means by the time the show loads, it’s actually been playing for a half a minute. Problem is that the subtitles start at the beginning and I’m seeing what was said 30 seconds ago. Seriously, I do not have the patience for that. Luckily, I find that if one pauses the show, turns off and then on the subtitle option, and then presses play, it usually resets itself.

Both closed captioning and subtitles are a great thing. Even hearing friends and family tell me they use them for clarity because sometimes people mumble. Although once, my stepdad did express amusement at (stabbing sounds) appearing over the very obvious scene of someone being stabbed. A little too helpful, perhaps?

Do you have experience with subtitles and closed captioning? What do you like/dislike about them?

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