Written by Kaitlyn Meilke
Captions and subtitles are for everyone. Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals aren’t the only ones that can benefit from captioning and/or subtitling. They also benefit children learning to read; English-as-a-second-language learners; individuals in waiting rooms, bars, and the local fitness centers. I’ve known incidents where hearing persons have turned on captions in order to decipher the mumbling of actors or catch Middle-Earth terminology used in Lord of the Rings. In short, anyone can use and benefit from captions and subtitles!
Wanna see a movie? The latest Broadway touring show? A ride or attraction at Disney World? Captioning and/or subtitling exists at those venues if one knows where to find them – or advocate to add them to the ever-growing list of places that offer the technology.
Movie Theaters: More and more movie theaters are offering a hybrid of captioning solutions. In the past, individuals had to make do with seeing ONE film at a set time. So, say, they offer an open-captioned showing (where captions are burned directly onto the image and visible to everyone in the auditorium), they were pretty much limited to the 2:00 PM showing. No more. There are several technology advances that make it possible to see any movie shown at any time. There are several examples of movie-captioning technology:
Open Captioned (OC): The traditional way to show captioned movies is to display subtitle-like captions directly on the image itself.
Rear Window Captioning (RWC): This set-up uses a LED display affixed to the back wall of the theater. Patrons use a plastic screen that fit in a cup-holder to reflect the displayed captions onto the screen itself. This set-up allows captions to be seen only by those using the reflector.
CaptiView: The newest advance in captioning technology, this set-up is similar to RWC but the LED display is built into the screen itself, and can caption any film being shown at the current venue at any time.
Ask your local movie theater which one they use. Some people have preferences of one set-up over another but they all do the same thing – they caption a movie J
Now, where can you find a captioned movie playing near you? Pull out your laptop, your phone, or your iPad and visit Captionfish to check out subtitled films near you.
Live Performances: Now for those who prefer the traditional form of theatre, more and more venues have recognized the need to include persons that don’t utilize (or prefer not to) a sign language interpreter. Mainly used by local road houses that host Broadway tours and well-known regional theaters, there exists the stage form of captioning.
Stage captioning? What’s that? Now, imagine yourself sitting in the audience of a majestic theater. In front of you is the stage. Now, look off to the side. You might see sign language interpreters. But more often than not, you will see a three-line LED screen scrolling the dialogue and lyrics in sync to the spoken counterpart uttering from actors’ mouths. That’s stage captioning. It’s visible to all. Other types of stage captioning might use a computer screen affixed to the edge of the stage (a low-cost type of captioning used by smaller theatres) or theaters might utilize their current existing Supertitles equipment from displaying English subtitles for operas sung in foreign languages.
In the US, Caption Coalition (c2) handles most of the stage-based Live Performance Captioning while in the UK, Stagetext takes the reins. Some theaters have their own in-house captioning equipment which they use and loan out to other local theater venues. Many of those venues will publicize a season’s worth of captioned performances on their websites. So be sure to check them out.
Four Broadway theatres as well as a Las Vegas production also offer an alternate form of live performance captioning (and foreign language subtitling for our international tourists) through Sound Associates’ iCaption unit. Resembling a PDA, this unit is handheld and enables the patron to sit almost anywhere in the theatre.
For a list of current venues using the iCaption unit, please click here. Current Broadway shows using this system include Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, and Wicked.
But your local theater (film or stage) doesn’t offer captioned/subtitled films? What to do? First, visit the venue and ask. Sometimes they don’t advertise that they have the technology to provide captions. If not, ask to talk to the house manager (not the Box Office folks). When you speak with the manager, advocacy is your best bet over complaining and whining. Tell your story of how you wish you could see captioned/subtitled shows in order to keep up with family/friends/peers and that you sincerely hope that they would consider offering captioned/subtitling showings at their venue for all to enjoy. If you are among those who do not use any form of sign language, now is your chance to mention that they will not benefit you compared to the possible benefit from captioning instead. Mention the benefits of captioning and how they can benefit everyone. Strength is in numbers – gather a bunch of your family/friends/peers and have them vouch for captions/subtitles with you. Sooner or later, you’ll be sitting in the audience with your popcorn enjoying a film with captions/subtitles, or flipping through your Playbill while listening to the orchestra playing the overture!
As an encore, we would like to offer Handheld Captioning (HC) available at Disney parks (Disneyland and Disney World). This is also a handheld PDA-style unit which captions not only live performances of shows and story times, but many of the rides as well. Now you can follow the narration of the dark rides such as Peter Pan’s Flight, or sing along to “It’s a Small World” or learn the history behind communication as you traverse through Spaceship Earth. Next time you visit a Disney park, ask for the Handheld captioning unit when you visit Guest Services. They also offer Rear-Window Captioning for the 3-D shows as well as Movie/TV captioning for the (long) lines. (The unit also serves as an Audio Description unit for our blind friends as well).
And now, let’s make the show go on!
Kaitlyn Mielke, a former Miss Deaf Minnesota 2009-2011, is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Liberal Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is currently interning at VSA Minnesota as a Community Engagement Specialist: Deaf/HOH Community. She is an enthusiastic patron of the arts and an advocate for improving accessibility to the theatre for Deaf/HOH audiences. When not studying or working, Kaitlyn also serves as a Director of Artistic Sign Language, teaming up with performing arts interpreters. Other times, she can usually be found reading a good book or sitting in the audience waiting for the curtain to go up!