07 September 2012

(Un)Captioned Conventions: The Politics of CC

While the DNC offered streaming CC,
the Republicans seemed to forget.
Disclaimer: This post is in support of neither political party, rather only in support of equal access to information for all.

Last night the Dems wrapped up in Charlotte with speeches by Jill and Joe Biden and the big man himself, bringing convention season for both parties to end.  But besides vast disparites in ideology and policy plans, there was another stark difference between parties: The Democrats offered live streaming coverage with closed captions, and the Republicans didn't.

The Stats:
-It is estimated that anywhere between 35 and 40 million Americans have some level of hearing loss.
-The Hearing Health Center of Chicago's latest study shows that 65% of those with hearing loss are under the age of 65.
-Pew Research Center statistics show that the majority of Americans consider the internet as their main source of news, with statistics correspondingly higher for the 18-29 year old age bracket.
-18-29 year olds make up 21% of the voting public.

The Summary: If we assume that the preferences of the 40 million Americans with hearing loss are statistically similar to those Americans without hearing loss, we can assume that more than half of them rely on the internet as their main source of news and, increasingly, source for television and film entertainment. Therefore, not providing captions for online streams left out millions of viewers/ voters. (These numbers also do not take into consideration a rapidly expanding population of new or first generation Americans who may need subtitles to follow along with a speech in English, their second language.)

The Politics:
Is it possible that accessibility crossed no one's mind in the Republican camp? Was it an oversight or an error? Did the Democrats plan to caption their event all along, or did they do so in response to the backlash from the deaf and hard of hearing community upon being left out of the RNC? And the Republicans aren't the only culprits; news networks time and time again issue video content without captions or a corresponding article, and campaign ads for both parties are often left uncaptioned.

The thing is, we should not be forced into making our political decisions based solely on whether or not a party's tech team has the wherewithal to stream closed captions; we should be able to get all sides of every story, just like our fellow hearing citizens. And access to political information for the deaf and hard of hearing is important now more than ever in this time of rapid economic, educational and technological change.  We deserve to know exactly where the candidates stand on issues that effect us, like the ADA, 21st Century Communications Act, stem cell research, funding for deaf schools and special education, as well as the broader issues of employment, taxes, health care and homeland security.  So make some noise, and let your local politicians know it's not okay to be left out of the discussion, and tweet #CaptionTHIS to anyone and everyone on Twitter.

What are some other ways we can make our voices heard on this issue? If you have a good idea, leave it in the comments and get the discussion started!


  1. Hearing loss exists when there is diminished sensitivity to the sounds normally heard. The term hearing impairment is usually reserved for people who have relative insensitivity to sound in the speech frequencies. The severity of a hearing loss is categorized according to the increase in volume above the usual level necessary before the listener can detect it. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for pointing out this distinction. While many medical experts demarcate a difference between hearing loss and hearing impairment, some also consider the terms to be interchangeable. And of course, the Deaf Community prefers the terms deaf or hard-of-hearing, as "hearing impairment" is deemed too negative, focusing solely on the notion that there is something wrong, and thus lending itself to assumptions that a deaf person cannot live a full or successful life without being "fixed." It is for this reason that the term "hearing loss"--a slightly less harsh but still broad and medically-based term encompassing a range of hearing abilities-- has been employed. Thanks for commenting, and thanks for reading!