If you’re ever really curious to know what it’s like for a deaf person to watch TV, it’s easy to experience: turn the captioning on and mute the volume. It really is a totally different experience when you only have the captions to rely on!
I’ve been using captions on the TV since they were readily available; I never had one of the caption decoder boxes. I guess it was the early 90s or so when I started watching TV and videos with captions.
I’ve always relied on them – even when I could hear pretty well, I could just never understand exactly what was being said because the sounds didn’t make sense (unless I could lip read, which is not always possible – voice-overs, for instance).
The kids and I would chuckle at some of the really descriptive captions – things like “lively fanfare” to describe music, for instance. Now, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all those very descriptive captions!
I’ve realized a few things in the past week. One thing captions can’t convey is accents, and this can really affect how humorous something is. The first thing that comes to mind as an example is Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, with his crazy/bizarre “French” accent. Just listening to him talk was enough to make me laugh! Now, if I were to watch A Shot in the Dark (for instance) without realizing what kind of accent he had, a lot of the dialog would just not seem as funny.
Since it’s only been a week since I’ve completely lost my hearing, I find that as I read the captions for our regular TV shows I hear the voices in my head as I remember them sounding, accents and all. It helps me feel connected to the show. But movies that I watched as a newly-deaf person were harder to connect to or “voice” in my head; Juno, for instance. I have no idea what Ellen Page’s voice sounds like or if she has any kind of accent.
Musical shows are especially hard to watch with just captioning. We’re big American Idol fans here and I find myself just focusing on the dancing/stage movements and facial expressions more than anything. After each song, I turn to my family members to get their opinions of how the voices actually sounded. Now, I was never good at telling if someone had a good voice or not anyway…I have no idea if someone is singing in tune, for instance. But I certainly used to be able to tell if I liked a specific musical arrangement, or if somebody’s voice was particularly awful!
The other area where captioning is still not fantastic is reality shows. Luckily we only watch two of those – American Idol (and the captioning there is not too bad) and Survivor. I’m not sure if it’s specific to Survivor the show, or if it’s a CBS thing, but the captioning for that show really lags. They’ll be talking and the captioning will be 2 or 3 sentences behind. I have to decide whether it’s just easier to lip-read (if it’s a segment where someone is talking directly to the camera) or just focus on the captions and not look at the lips, which throws me off because they’re so far out of sync.
One final comment and then I think I’ve said all I can about captioning…I really wish they’d get the technology to caption all the videos on the internet. It’s more and more prevalent, and we’ve had a few TV shows get cancelled and then offer the remaining episodes on the internet only – which does us no good because those episodes aren’t captioned. I’m always thrilled when I find a (rare) captioned video online!