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Comments on Net Neutrality

The FCC is accepting comments from the public on net neutrality. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, the majority of the public doesn’t really know what net neutrality is. This is a bad thing. Especially since the latest proposed action from the FCC would greatly diminish the neutrality of the Internet infrastructure.

The Internet has been described as a series of tubes. It’s really a series of computers connected by wires and fiber-optic cables and very complex switching equipment. One of the founding principles of the Internet has been that all data is created equal. The switches and routers pass through everything, regardless of whether it comes from a gigantic corporation, a government, a major competitor of the company that owns the switch, or some lone blogger in a third-world country. The net — meaning the infrastructure of the Internet — is neutral.

The technical capability to discriminate has been there for a very long time. A business can block its workers from watching porn. Short bursts of data like emails and Tweets can be given priority over massive floods of data like streaming movies or downloading operating system updates. But the “common carriers,” companies that provide Internet service to homes and businesses, are not supposed to slow down or stop data coming from someone they don’t like.

This is what the cable companies are trying to change.

To borrow an analogy from John Oliver, they want to turn the Internet into their own version of a mob shakedown. “You want to make sure people can watch your videos without a ‘buffering’ message every 30 seconds? That’ll be a million bucks. You want to make sure they can download your files without getting a timeout and having to start over? That’ll be another million bucks.” If the FCC destroys net neutrality, people who don’t pay the cable company vig will have their data shoved into a bandwidth backwater where it simply won’t be seen.

If you have a spare thirteen minutes, please watch this:

You may need to try more than once. This rant of Oliver’s managed to attract so much attention that the YouTube video is giving “try again later” messages and the FCC’s comment page actually crashed (here’s a video about that).

Is it clear yet how this might affect you? Imagine if your favorite news source was delayed, buffered, and made so slow it was hard to use. Now imagine that the biased mainstream news source you detest was made faster and smoother. Perhaps your favorite news source doesn’t have the money to buy its way out of the virtual gutter. People would stop using it. Advertising would drop off. And you’d be stuck with the site you don’t like.

In 1960, journalist A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The Internet has done a great deal to change that situation. Everyone, regardless of whether you or I deem them worthy, has a press. Every American can read my blog post or watch my YouTube video as easily as they can access network news shows or the words of the President. Today, we choose the content we wish to have more of. We share it, reblog it, retweet it, and click those ubiquitous like buttons. The Internet is a meritocracy where the best content wins, no matter where it came from.

Breaking net neutrality would take us back to a journalistic world of old, where the amount of cash in your pocket determines whether your content will be seen, or whether it will be relegated to a slow-moving eddy outside the main current of the data stream. The meritocracy turns into a plutocracy, and ad revenues won’t buy our way out of it.

The cable companies have an easy answer to this: they say that everything is so fast these days that it doesn’t matter. Hogwash. All of the data will live in the fast lane, but certain companies will be able to buy a super-special hyperspeed lane to go with it. Although the capacity of the Internet may seem infinite, it is not. The more bandwidth is set aside for the highest bidder, the less will be available to the common man.

The death of net neutrality is not a step forward in the development of the Internet. It’s a massive step backward, initiated by an industry that is buying its own regulations.

I encourage everyone to take action. Follow that link in the first paragraph, and when the FCC page comes up, click on “14-28 Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.” Over 45,000 people have done so in the last 30 days. Let’s see how many more we can get before they close the comment period.

Video of my TEDx talk, and a few words about the content

TEDxBozeman header

Everything always seems to take longer than expected, and when my talk hit YouTube, I was out of town on vacation for a couple of weeks. I’m back now, and we can get caught up.

First of all, the talk is on the main TED website, but it’s a bit laborious to find. The primary search doesn’t turn it up (and the Gary Robson that appears isn’t me); you have to look in the TEDx section of the site. I’ll save you the trouble and provide a direct link: go here to watch my talk on

I also have a direct link to the talk on YouTube, but I can make it even easier than that: here’s an embedded video with closed captions so you just have to click “play.” I am really excited that over 1,500 people have watched this on YouTube in less than a week!

A word about the captions on this video: The TEDxBozeman video crew hadn’t dealt with web captioning before, and when they sent me test files, I was having trouble getting them to play on my computer for some reason. We started with a clean transcript. My wife, Kathy, is a realtime captioner and she volunteered to create the file for me. I did a bit of editing (not much required; Kathy is a pro!) and then the video crew did the timing and placement. We still have a few glitches with line breaks and positioning, but I hope we can get those cleaned up soon.

My “behind the scenes” post talked about the actual experience of giving the talk, but I’d like to talk a bit now about the content. The message in this video is important to me for many reasons, and everyone who shares this video with their friends helps to spread that message. In a nutshell, the message is this: Captions are a nicety for those of us who can hear; they are a necessity for those who can’t. Certainly hearing people outnumber deaf and hard-of-hearing (HoH) people, but we can’t let the needs of the minority be drowned out by the convenience of the majority.

As I said in the talk, the World Health Organization says that 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. That’s 360 MILLION people! They need more than just an approximation of the dialog randomly tossed on a screen. Their captions are every bit as important as our audio, and those captions should be properly timed, properly placed, properly spelled, and comprehensive.

I am pleased by the action that the FCC has decided to take. They are moving the right direction, but it’s going to be a difficult move. How do you assign a numeric score to caption quality so that it can be legislated? What’s worse: a misspelled word or a caption covering someone’s face? How far behind can realtime captions be? I don’t envy them the work that’s going to go into legislating quality, but I’ll be happy to jump in and help if they ask. I’ve put a lot of time into questions like that throughout my career.

On TEDx stage with FCC logo

There’s one other thing I’d like to clarify: in no way should my talk be construed as a blanket condemnation of the people performing captioning today. Quite to the contrary, that business is filled with talented, caring people who work their tails off to produce a quality product. Unfortunately, a lot of station executives don’t give captioning the priority it deserves, and the job goes to the lowest bidder rather than the most qualified bidder. A broadcaster can meet the letter of the law today with a captioner who does no preparation, no research, and no post-broadcast QC analysis to improve the next broadcast. This is why realtime captioners earn less than half as much today as they did 20 years ago.

When we do something because we feel that it’s the right thing to do, we want to do it right; when we do something because we’re forced to do it, we’ll often do the least that we can get away with.

Legislation has unfortunately hurt us here, even as it’s helped in many other ways. By forcing everyone to caption, we have increased the quantity of captioning without providing incentive to increase (or even maintain) the quality. It’s good to see that changing.



Behind the scenes: My talk at TEDxBozeman

If you don’t know what a TED talk is, or you don’t know the difference between TED and TEDx, please start by reading my TED post from last November. Okay, you’re back. Good!

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about TEDxBozeman and my talk, and now that it’s over and I have decompressed a bit, I will be happy to answer them. I’ll start by saying that (A) the talk should be on and YouTube by April 21, (B) yes, my talk will be captioned, and (C) I will post more detail about the talk itself in the next few weeks.

Most of the questions, though, were about the event itself. How does this all work? What goes into a TEDx event?

On stage at TEDxBozeman 2014

On stage at TEDxBozeman 2014.

That nine minutes on stage is the culmination of months of work for me, and the process started much earlier than that for the team that put on the event. For me, it began last October when Ken Fichtler, the co-founder of TEDxBozeman, stopped by my tea bar. I wasn’t there, but he left me a note suggesting that I apply to be a presenter. Obviously, I leaped on the opportunity.

On November 19, a few nail-biting weeks after I submitted my application, the selection committee sent an email saying they’d chosen me as one of their speakers. At that point, I officially committed to do something I’d never done: memorize a speech. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, ranging from educational seminars to emceeing live events. In every single instance, I’ve had notes.

I’m good at following an outline. My speaking style, however, is like my father’s.

“Anyone who tells a joke or story the same way twice is just plain lazy.”
— Dad

He always said that a successful speaker or storyteller needs to be constantly reading the audience and adjusting the speech, and that’s what I learned to do. My notes keep me on track and I improvise the words. That isn’t the way things work in TED talks.

I first recorded myself giving the talk in early February, and sent the video in for reviews. For the most part, they were kind, but there was consensus on a couple of issues:

  1. At 15 minutes, the talk was too long.
  2. I had too many facts and figures. One reviewer actually said I sounded too much like a textbook or a Wikipedia page. Ouch. I did write the textbook on the subject, but that’s most emphatically not what my talk was supposed to sound like.

I went to work on cutting and restructuring the talk. And just as I felt good about it, the rug was pulled out from under me. The FCC unanimously voted to implement new quality standards for captioning. I had one weekend to rip out my entire lecture about why the FCC should be doing this and instead focus on what they were doing.

Talking about quality

I was using the word “quality” to talk about captions here. I could just as easily have been talking about the staff that put this event on. They were an amazing group!

I arrived in Bozeman two days before the event.

My handler

I’d like to think I don’t need much handling, but my handler certainly was helpful in making sure I was in the right places at the right times.

I should note at this point that TEDxBozeman is put on entirely by volunteers. Dozens of people donated their time to do staging, sound, video, check-in, decoration, and more. Even our handlers were volunteers. Yes, we had handlers! The TEDx speakers are not paid for this. We volunteered our time as well. They did, however, provide hotel rooms for those of us coming in from out of town, and fed us a couple of times as well. That was much appreciated.

Wednesday night was a presenter dinner. We all had an opportunity to meet each other — I had talked to everyone on video chat, but we hadn’t met face-to-face — and to meet the organizers.

The lineup of speakers for TEDxBozeman 2014 was downright intimidating. At one point, I was talking with several of them and realized I was the only one in the group without a Ph.D. I felt like Wolowitz on the Big Bang Theory, but at least he has a Masters degree. I don’t even have that!

On the other hand, many of them were speaking about subjects that really interested me. Mary Schweitzer’s talk about paleontology and studying dinosaur proteins. Rebecca Watters’ talk about wolverines. Molly Cross’ talk about climate change. We were seated at three tables, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with everyone, but I sure liked what I was hearing.

Presenter dinner

Our emcee, Paul Anderson, describes the ritual dismemberment of speakers who forget their lines. Actually, he was telling a joke, but it sure looks like he was talking about ritual dismemberment.

The organizers then gave us a little pep talk. It helped that Paul Anderson, the emcee, had done a TEDxBozeman talk himself a couple of years ago, so he was able to tell us what to expect. After dinner, I headed back to the hotel and rehearsed a few more times in front of the mirror.

Thursday was dress rehearsal day, and I got my first glimpse of the venue. Wow! The decorations and sets weren’t fully assembled yet, but I could already tell it was going to look great. For the first time, we got miked up and climbed up on stage to do a live run-through. I watched the person before me do her talk, but I didn’t really see it. This was all starting to sink in.

I started the dress rehearsal by getting about 30 seconds into the talk and having my video not work. We took a break and they figured everything out. We started again, and I must have gotten out two whole sentences before my mind went completely and utterly blank. I just stood there. The third time was a charm, however, and we made it all the way through.

Then the lighting guys came up and said that my hat was going to be an issue. It cast a shadow over my eyes. The speaker coordinator, Maddie Cebuhar, said maybe I just shouldn’t wear it. Three people said, “Oh, no. He has to wear that hat. We’ll make this work.” What we ended up deciding was that I’d tilt the hat back, and then pay attention on stage. If the lights weren’t in my eyes, I had to lift my head or tilt the hat more.

Holding the sign

They really should expect that if they have pieces of the set laying around, someone like me will pick them up and play with them. That thing’s metal, by the way. It’s quite heavy.

After my dress rehearsal, I went back to the hotel. I was pumped full of adrenaline. The email from Maddie didn’t help. She said, “Just in case there are any technical difficulties in getting your [PowerPoint] started, please be ready with a casual filler (so that you are not just standing awkwardly on stage).” I prepared a joke:

“An astrophysicist, an entrepreneur, and a wolverine expert walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘What is this? Some kind of TED talk?'”

Then I sat there thinking about how I’d cover if the video equipment caught fire. Then I called my wife. She talked me down and told me to go clear my head, so I went to the Museum of the Rockies, where I ended up seeing an exhibit about a dinosaur dig one of the presenters worked on. Cool! I also went to the show at the planetarium. I read a book for a while, met a friend for a beer, and went back to the room to rehearse a few more times.

Friday. The big day. We had a speaker room where they fed us burritos (Yay! Beans for the presenters!) and gave us the big pre-show pep talk. I walked into the room where we’d rehearsed the day before. The sets were done. The stage was together. The cameras were set up. And the crowd was filing in.

The crowd

A sold-out room with over 500 attendees. I have no idea how many more were watching the live stream online, or how many more will eventually watch these talks on

Our talks were divided into three sessions. I sat with my wife and daughter and watched the first set. It opened with ceremonial Native American drumming and singing by the Bobcat Singers, a TED video, and some very professional speakers that had obviously done this kind of thing a million times before (Michelle Larson and Greg Gianforte). My mind was fuzzed out by all of the adrenaline. I’ll have to watch those again because I don’t remember them.

I paid attention to Mary Schweitzer’s talk because it interested me, we watched another video, and then “Basement Jazz” closed the first session with spontaneous jazz/funk improvisation. We went into the first break, and I went to do one last dry run before we started. My handler tracked me down in a dark room where I was practicing and dragged me over to the “speaker corner” so they could wire me up for sound. I wandered back into a storage room (telling him where I was going this time) and practiced some more. When our session started, I stood and watched the first speaker (Carmen McSpadden), but I really wasn’t seeing or hearing her. I was up next.

Do I look calm?

Do I look calm? Because I’m not!

Everyone told me later that I looked calm and cool when I presented, but I certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. All I could think of was forgetting my talk. Or the video equipment bursting into flame. This is where a hundred practice runs took over. I got through the first few minutes, realized it was all flowing, and just let it go. The nervous energy turned into passion. Next think I knew, the talk was over and I was headed offstage. They got my microphone off and I watched the next talk: Rebecca Watters’ wolverine presentation was as fascinating as I had expected. Then, I got my mind blown.

Theo Bennett is a high school senior, and he gave one of the most stirring, emotional, passionate, inspirational talks I’ve ever heard. Half of the audience was in tears. He got the only standing ovation of the day, and boy, did he deserve it. Later, I tracked down Maddie and thanked her profusely for not making me follow Theo.

From that point on, I was able to relax and really watch everyone else’s talks. I hope that if you’ve read this far in my ridiculously long blog post, you’re interested enough to watch all of these when the videos are released.

Tate Chamberlin’s “experiential remix” was unique and stirring. He told his whole story to music, and it was quite a story. I’m glad I didn’t have to follow him, either.

Molly Cross has a very different point of view about climate change. It’s best summed up as “let’s take the things we can’t change and figure out how to get excited about them.” It really made me look at climate change differently.

The rest of the third session, with the exception of the musical performances by Josh Powell and the Bobcat Singers, centered on technology. I want to stay in touch with Craig Beals to see how his simple “how are you?” questions to his students develop down the road. Graham Austin made me think about my store and how people connect to it. And I’ll definitely be staying in touch with Rob Irizarry about CodeMontana and teaching children about computers.

By the end of the day, I was really ready for a beer. They served us a wonderful dinner, and we mixed and chatted. I went back to the hotel room, fully intending to head out to the after party (Tate told me all the cool kids would be there), but once I walked into the room I realized I was completely exhausted. By the time the after party started, I was already asleep.

TEDxBozeman inspired me to push my boundaries. It introduced me to a lot of people I hope will turn into friends. It crossed an item off of my bucket list. And I think it made me a better person.

Captioners: Remembering Your Audience

UPDATE: Here is a blog post about using Facebook as a tool to do all of the interviews for this article. Also, a couple of years after writing this article, I gave a TEDx talk on this very subject.

Back in the days before closed captioning was mandated, translated, and legislated, everything was clear and simple: captions were created for deaf and hard-of-hearing (HoH) people. Looking back through the rosy glow of nostalgia, captioners had a goal and worked with like-minded broadcasters and agencies to serve our target audience.

In reality, that model has been changing since before the Television Decoder Circuitry Act was enacted in 1990. Even then, less than half of the country’s 500,000 caption decoders had been sold to people with hearing impairments. Today, the average American is most likely to think of captioning as something one sees in noisy bars, gyms, and airports, but the people who need captioners are the same ones captioning was created for: the deaf and HoH audience.

High-Quality Captioning: A Conundrum

At first blush, a captioner’s goal seems simple: produce high-quality captioning. Unfortunately, that goal has two major problems. First, defining “quality.” Second, answering the critical question, “quality for whom?”

I primarily use captioning to help me keep up with the dialog on TV while the dog is barking, the grandson is talking, the phone is ringing, and the world cat-wrestling championship is taking place on the couch next to me. When I miss a word, I look at the bottom of the screen and there it is! Deaf people aren’t using captioning to fill in a few gaps. They’re using it as a substitute for the audio track. “Quality” to them isn’t the same as it is to me or to you.

When NCRA issues a CBC (Certified Broadcast Captioner) or CRR (Certified Realtime Reporter) certification, they test what’s practical to test: your ability to produce a verbatim – or near-verbatim – voice-to-text product. Getting those words transcribed and onto the screen isn’t the whole job of a captioner, though. Other facets of the captioning matter, too.

The people I interviewed for this article raised some issues that you may not normally consider part of delivering quality captioning, including:

  • Latency: The delay between the word being spoken and appearing in the captions
  • Positioning: Captions covering critical content on the screen
  • Lack of Speaker ID: Not making it clear who is speaking
  • Non-verbal Cues: Sound effects, song identification, and other non-spoken information


Dana Mulvany of Differing Abilities told me, “Significantly delayed captions end up denying access, particularly when they are cut off by commercials. They also deny access to understanding the facial expressions as well as the words.”

Delays are definitely a big issue. If the captions lag two or three seconds behind the video, it’s pretty easy to follow along and see the broadcast as a unified whole. I timed a national morning news show several times over several broadcasts, and found delays of seven to nine seconds. When watching a fast-paced newscast, it becomes difficult to understand when the captions are that far behind the video. On talk shows, I’ve measured delays of 20 seconds and more. At that point, you’re several jokes behind, and you can lose content as well.

“Delayed captions can get cut off when the program is interrupted by commercials or the end of the program, so they can be highly disruptive,” Mulvaney said.

Digital satellite broadcasts delay the video by several seconds, and DTV transcoding of captions can introduce even more delay.

Philip Bravin, former Chair of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees, commented, “Sometimes I go back to standard definition just to enjoy captions on news better, because the latency in HDTV captioning is driving me crazy.”

One way that captioners can reduce the delay in the captions is to listen to a direct audio source over the phone instead of pulling audio from a digital broadcast. Additionally, most captioning software allows you to adjust the delay time. Clearly, if the software holds back a line or more of captions, you have more time to correct errors, which makes the caption text more accurate. This, unfortunately, comes at the expense of usability, as the delay makes captions harder to follow.

There’s more to the latency story than that, however, and most of it is out of the captioner’s control. As an example, my wife (freelance stenocaptioner Kathy Robson) was doing a sports broadcast the other day. The client required the captions to be routed to several encoders. This meant that she had to dial in to the captioning firm, which split the signal and routed it to multiple destinations. I stopwatched the delay. From the time the captions left her computer until they appeared on the satellite image we were watching was just under eight seconds. You can do your part, but you can’t fix that problem.


I’m not speaking here of purely aesthetic decisions about where to place captions, but of practical positioning decisions that affect the usability and understandability of the captioning. Typically, this means captions covering critical content on the screen.

“[It] drives me nuts when they are captioning something that is written on the screen, like David Letterman’s Top 10 List,” said Tom Willard, Editor of Deafweekly. “Why don’t the captionists look up at the screen and stop captioning when the info is right there on the screen?”

Willard is speaking of a situation where the captions needlessly duplicate what’s on the screen – and sometimes introduce errors in doing so. Back in the old days, a captioner could simply stop writing when the Top 10 List appeared. Today, the caption text is often aggregated to produce searchable video. This means captioners can’t simply stop writing.

“Data mining is just a byproduct, I would think, but the reason there are captions is guys like me,” said Bill Graham, founder of the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA). As much as the deaf community would like to believe that, broadcasters see it differently, and if the text you attach to the video is a byproduct, it’s a very important one.

There is another placement issue as well, where the captions are covering unrelated, yet still important, information. Television producers do not make this situation easy for captioners. Turn on an NFL broadcast, and you’ll see text and graphics covering nearly a third of the screen. What do you cover with the captions? The score? The other graphics? Or the game itself?

Even when the on-screen graphics consist of a single line of Chyron text, the captions often cover that text instead of bumping up a line or moving to the top of the screen. That text may contain the name and title of a person being interviewed, which isn’t mentioned in the captions. I sometimes find myself pausing the video, backing up, turning off captions, replaying a segment, and then turning captions back on, just so I can see names and titles that the captions were covering.

What can a captioner do about it? Placement is often mandated by the broadcaster, and your only option is to make sure they’re aware of the problem when they don’t leave you a place to put the captions. Most broadcasters have a television monitor somewhere in the studio showing the captions, but that doesn’t mean someone’s watching it.

“I’d guess at most of the stations who have engineers watching captions, they don’t pay too much attention until they have to,” Bill Graham noted.

Speaker Identification

Hearing people can usually tell who is speaking even when we can’t understand what they’re saying. Deaf viewers, however, rely on lip reading and other cues to identify speakers. If the speaker is off-screen or not facing the camera, they rely on the captions for speaker identification.

“I personally am hard of hearing, so I’m able to catch most of the emotional nuances when I’m listening to the TV”, said Mulvany. “I also can catch the facial expressions if I’m not listening to the sound and if the captions are synchronized.” Extreme delays definitely exacerbate the problem. It’s hard to remember whose lips were moving eight seconds ago in a fast-moving show.

There are a lot of reasons not to provide speaker identification when realtiming. It slows you down; sometimes you don’t know who’s speaking; you may not get the names in advance.

All understandable, but there is a middle ground. On a talk show, for example, having speaker IDs for the host and sidekick or bandleader might be enough if you add “Guest” and “Audience Member.” Even following the news convention of starting a line with >> when there is a new speaker would be a big help on many shows.

Mulvany went on to add, “Europeans use color to indicate who is speaking, so if that has been proven to work there, it would seem very useful here, too.” I’ve raised this question with captioners in the past, and met with a great deal of resistance, but I’m not entirely sure why.

Quite some time ago, I was doing some work with the BBC. They assigned colors to each of the anchors on the show, and used white text for everyone else. Once the speaker IDs were properly defined in the captioning software, the entire process was automatic. We’ve had that capability in U.S. captioning software for over 20 years, yet I know of nobody that uses it.

Non-verbal Cues

In the 1970s and 80s, when someone asked me the difference between closed captioning and subtitling, I had two easy differences to point out. The first was that captions could be turned on and off and subtitles couldn’t. The second was that captions included non-verbal cues for deaf/HoH people (e.g., “gunshot” or “footsteps approaching” or “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony playing softly”).

This seems to have tapered off in recent years, and consumers who don’t understand it may actually complain about it, as we saw in January 2011. President Obama was speaking in Tucson at a memorial service, and someone happened to photograph the captioning on the Jumbotron just when the line [APPLAUSE] appeared. A blogger named Jim Hoft manufactured quite a bit of outrage by claiming that the captioner was asking audience members to applaud rather than indicating that they already were. He was shouted down rather swiftly, but the lesson remains: there are people who don’t understand why non-verbal cues are included in the captions.

Some broadcasters or captioners may be omitting non-verbal cues on purpose, but that’s not always how the deaf viewers see it.

“There just seem to be variations based on how diligent people are about doing their jobs,” said Willard. “I do see shows that give a lot of clues about background noise and others that don’t. Seems to come down to how much they care.”

Sometimes the deaf and HoH audiences ask for things that may not be practical to provide. “I think it’s probably not possible for realtime captioners to provide all the non-verbal information that’s desirable,” Mulvaney said, “but I do think it’s very important to indicate when the tone of voice is sarcastic or ironic.”

Is There an Answer?

The shift in captioning focus isn’t all bad. Bravin noted that, “Captioning has become more or less mainstream, so the deaf and HoH focus is pretty much gone, but it helps force the captioning issue because there s a legal requirement.”

Currently, television stations in the nation’s top 25 markets are required to provide realtime captioning for newscasts, but all other stations can use TelePrompTer-based captioning. Everyone I spoke to in the deaf/HoH communities agreed that upgrading the rest of the nation to realtime would be a great start.

“It’s been decades and I’m used to it, but the captioning of local news is a pain in the neck if you’re not in one of the big markets that requires real-time captioning,” said Tom Willard.

Training more new captioners is another issue. Obviously, the law of supply and demand would indicate that having too many captioners would drive down pay in a market that’s already seen dramatic declines in hourly rates in the last two decades. But consumers are concerned.

“The quality of the captioning is likely to get worse as the demand for captioning grows simply because there are not enough high-quality captioners out there,” Bill Graham commented. Graham isn’t just looking at television, though.

“All these webinars that are proliferating for example: few are captioned,” he continued. “If there is a webinar to help people get ahead in their jobs, what happens is that deaf people get farther behind. This is going to be a BIG problem in the future: news vs. livelihood; entertainment vs. education and jobs.”

And, finally, Willard echoed a common theme when he was speaking of disappearing (prescripted) captions and said, “I really resent that it is my job to be a compliance officer, that it is up to me to have to complain about it to my cable company.”

Bravin agreed: “It’s too much of an hassle to file a complaint, and then with no complaints it’s harder for the FCC to enforce quality.”

Should the FCC be legislating caption quality? Should broadcasters be working with deaf/HoH consumers to improve captioning? Questions like this can’t be resolved by captioners or captioning companies, but being aware of the issues that affect the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people can help keep you focused on the people who need you most.

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