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Captioning for Hearing Impaired
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Dome-L discussion about ADA compliance and closed-captioning
November 2014

Bing Quock asked:

... we're in discussions now about closed-captioning for hearing-impaired visitors, and I know that different theaters have different systems. We already have assisted-listening devices, which have enjoyed limited success, but now we're talking about not just amplification but closed-captioning. We've tried connecting with a few suppliers such as Sony or Google, but they're been oddly unresponsive. If you have such a system, what do you use? Are you (and your guests) happy with it, and why/why not? Is it intrusive at all to non-hearing-impaired guests? Who makes it, what did it cost, and can you give me a name to contact?

Fred Huebener (Theaters Senior Manager, Michigan Science Center, Detroit, MI):

It is worth noting the Department of Justice just recently stated that they expect to mandate all theaters provide a closed captioning system of some sorts to comply with the ADA by the end of 2016. More information will be coming from the DOJ in the future, pay attention to this issue. Theaters have seen many lawsuits in the past, especially theater chains, but everyone can expect them if you are non-compliant once the DOJ spells out exact guidelines and a deadline date.

The best systems I’ve seen:

  1. Use a clear piece of plastic with just enough reflection (that clamps to a seat arm rest or fits into a cup holder) to allow a guest to view a closed captioning system at the back of theater
  2. Provide guests a personal handheld or mountable device with a small screen.
  3. Personal glasses that project the captions right on the glasses.

All of these options prevent guests from having to see the closed captioning if they don’t want to (versus including the captions on screen), which keeps them in the immersive environment we are trying to create and maintain. Here are some links:

Steve Fentress (Strasenburgh Planetarium, Rochester, NY):

Since 1999 we've offered open captioning for giant-screen movies at Strasenburgh Planetarium. (If it's on the screen where everyone can see it, it's open captioning; if you have to do something to make it visible to yourself, it's closed.) A dedicated video projector projects captions at the base of the image, like subtitles in a foreign-language movie. This projector is fed by software written by former Strasenburgh intern Grant Nicholson. We (actually our technical guru Joe Ricci) inputs the text, one phrase at a time, with a time-code tag for each phrase. Then, in performance, the software monitors time code from the soundtrack tape and displays each phrase at the programmed time. The New York State Council on the Arts has liked the system well enough to give us a small grant every year (so far) to help with operation.

The software is not a consumer product and we don't distribute it because we're not sure it will work anywhere else. But today you could probably get a smart local person to write your own version.

We tested this system with a sort of focus group of local people who are deaf or hearing-impaired, and they much preferred it to glasses, reflective panels, etc., which require the viewer to do something odd. As one participant said, "We don't want to be treated differently from other people; we want to be treated the same as other people."

John Young (Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego CA):

I use Final Cut Pro to caption our presentations. I create a QuickTime movie of the text with white on black letters. Any video editor will do of course.

Then I use Protools, our audio playback system, to play it in sync with the sound track. Most Digital Audio Workstations allow video playback along with audio for composers.

The video is positioned so that it it playing on a second monitor that is a video projector in the booth at the rear of the theater. A reflector on a goose-neck is placed in a seat cup holder and positioned so that the patron can see the first captions. I create one at the start specifically so they can adjust it. Only some seats are positioned properly, and each theater is different. This has caused some issues.

Patrons who need this should be pre-seated for this arrangement. When trailers are added, etc, changes must be made.

This looks, in my opinion, VASTLY better than the scrolling LEDs Ive seen used in Rear Window systems, and the video editing is easier to use then their software.

We also have explored using a tablet to VNC into a second screen where the captions are playing, but security is an issue, as is the expense of a tablet.

Drew Gilmore (Asst. Director, Sudekum Planetarium): I'd be curious if there is a standard format for providing caption text, its timing, and other metadata (there's gotta be one, right?) Seems like if this a coming requirement that it would be helpful for both equipment and show vendors to start supporting it.

We were actually talking about this here a few days before this thread started. I was wondering if something could be implemented using Digistar 5 and the web view of its control panel page, over either an iPad or perhaps less costly tablet computer. Light security (and not to mention light leaks) could possibly be controlled with some red plex covering the touchscreen. Also, there are kiosk apps available that restrict users from straying from the displayed web page or out of the browser.

Greg Mancari: Please keep in mind that these regulations require the PRODUCER to supply the closed captioning for the material provided and this applies to recorded content only. So for those of you that have content provided by an external producer that has not provided CC in a format that is standard for film, you need not worry about violating the law.

with this in mind, this is still a great discussion to have as it should be something that is fully provided by producers once a standard is decided.

Heather Jones (Mt. SAC-Randall Planetarium): I'm very passionate about deaf accommodations in the planetarium because my parents are deaf. I've always been frustrated by being unable to accommodate them well whenever they try to see one of my shows. There are several deaf accommodations out there designed for movie and stage theaters that unfortunately do not work well in a planetarium environment. Captions are frequently located outside of the line of sight (close to the ground) and fixed, or too bright to be useful in the planetarium. Brigham Young University (BYU) has been developing and testing some new technology to help deaf audiences in the planetarium. The project is called Signglasses, you can watch a video about it here: This technology allows the wearer to look in any direction and still understand the content. Its potential applications go well beyond the planetarium to museums, classrooms, tours etc... I'm very excited for this technology and what it could means for the deaf community. In the mean time I've figured out how to write programs that display captions on top of the shows we've purchased using our Digistar 4 system. If you have any questions about the Signglasses project contact the BYU Planetarium Director Jeannette Lawler, or email

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