Hearing A–Z

Captioning is the text version of speech and other sounds that can be provided on television, DVDs, videos on the internet, cinemas, theatres and public places like museums.

Captions are either selected as desired (closed captions), usually by turning the captions function on or off, or they are included so that they automatically appear on a screen (open captions). You may see the ‘CC’ symbol for closed captions or the ‘OC’ symbol for open captions on TV program guides, DVDs and accessible cinema session guides.

Captioning symbols
Captioning differs from ‘subtitling’, which is the translation into another language, presented as text on screen.

Who needs them?

Captions are particularly useful for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired, as well as those who are viewing content in a noisy environment, teaching or training and who are learning English.

Captioning in cinemas

CaptiView is a device that presents captions to individual movie goers. The CaptiView system consists of a small display screen on a bendable support arm that fits into the theatre seat cup holder. The screen can be positioned directly in front of the movie patron.

On television and in videos

Captioning television programs allows the soundtrack of a television broadcast to be displayed as text on the screen. There are two types of captioning: closed and open. ‘Closed’ captioning is hidden from the normal TV picture and requires a Teletext decoder to view.
‘Open’ captions are not hidden from the normal picture, and cannot be turned off. They appear on videos and television pictures for items such as a translation of a foreign language film.
Closed captioning provides text for the audio track of a program and may also include descriptions of various sounds, laughter and music. Closed captions are normally positioned at the bottom of the screen, closed captions are also coloured, positioned and timed to indicate who is speaking.
Captions are produced in two different ways, depending on whether they are for programs that are pre-recorded, or a program that is live.
Offline Captions: where sufficient production time enables captioning from a pre-recorded program, resulting in precise transcripts placed under relevant speakers at bottom of screen.
For topicality, some programs though pre-recorded are then post produced or edited shortly before transmission time requiring the Captioning to be produced as the program is being transmitted ie “live captioning”.
Online Captions (Live Captioning): scrolling captions are produced by highly trained stenographers using shorthand machines to type captions as the words are spoken (eg a live-to-air interview). These are the most specialised form of captions – there is no time to edit or ask a speaker to repeat phrases or unfamiliar words. Where required, phonetic spelling is used and minor contractions are used when the speaking speed is fast. Accuracy of stenocaptions is expected to be 98%.
If a word is spoken that is not in the dictionary, the stenocaptioner can spell the word phonetically using known syllables. To the viewer, it can be unsettling at first, but it is a practical solution to dealing with little-used or foreign words that are not in a stenocaptioner’s regular dictionary.

Complaints about captioning

The Australian Communications and Media Authority investigates valid complaints about captioning. A complaint must give details such as the program name, television station and location, and date/s of broadcast. You should also explain clearly the nature of your complaint.