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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Closed Captions On Ohio TV: 24/7 Gibberish Dished To The Disabled

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Who or what are the "poeings of or nation?" And can you imagine confronting a situation "14 hours before her goid was ever found." These unintelligible phrases scrolled -- perhaps scrawled is a better word -- across TV sets in Ohio in the last week. They were delivered as audio was translated into text for the deaf and hard of hearing.

There were countless examples of this mumbo-jumbo noted by The Daily Bellwether, all of it seeming to be a violation of federal rules that are supposed to give every American equal access to the airwaves. Obviously, something is seriously wrong. Perhaps the broadcasters, or the Federal Communications Commission that regulates broadcasters, have lost their sight.

The Bellwether saw "set the projukt jekt back" and "aens skapd." There was something about the "may who spray delged." And a "niece for nid." In Cincinnati, the city's name appeared as "seance gnaty" on a local newscast, and later as "zus gnaty" where the police "crishigred" a case. Only "hankle tin knowe" for certain what that might be about.

The sloppy translations looks to be matter in need of a major overhaul and Congress or state officials might want to delve into the situation. Within Ohio's aging population there are many seniors whose aural senses have faded. These elderly, too, use captions for news, information and entertainment. The National Association of the Deaf says:

"Closed captioning is an integral and crucial part of a deaf and hard of hearing person's daily life and personal safety. However, despite the FCC closed captioning rules, there continues to be woeful captioning access -- no access or poor quality -- in broadcast captions."

A Federal Communications Commission consumer fact sheet says closed captioning is a critical link for the deaf and hard of hearing. The FCC also notes: "For individuals whose native language is not English, English language captions improve comprehension and fluency. Captions also help improve literacy skills."

Gina Amberger, who watched some of the crazy captions on an evening local newscast, has a brother who was born deaf. She was outraged by the sloppy text. "This is ridiculous. This is gibberish. Why do the people who allow this to happen even have a job. Deaf people have a hard enough time as it is."

The National Association of the Deaf has plenty to say about captions.


  1. Bill - I'm not deaf but I so know this problem. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. Jill -

    Man, if I had known you had written about this I would have linked.

    And if I read your post, it must have slipped my mind, like a certain marriage (if you get my drift).

  3. Since the cases you cite are obviously mistranslated keystrokes from real-time captioning, maybe you could do a reasonably accurate sample and count how many completely accurate lines (or at least lines where every word is a word even if it's the wrong word) there are, and how many lines contain these random phonetics.

    Everyone who can just barely pass a court-reporting program can get a job in the U.S., and some of them end up doing captioning. You don't always get the 200-wpm experts captioning your show (and many shows shouldn't be captioned using real-time). So not only is the technology intrinsically limited (you simply cannot get above 98% accuracy over long periods), you might be stuck with an only-barely-competent stenocaptionist in the first place. The only change from five, ten, or 20 years ago is the increased number of ill-qualified writers, since we've had to hire everyone we can hire just to get the shows captioned.

    If you want to complain about something, complain about overuse of scrollup captioning, or errors in prerecorded captioned shows.

  4. Joe --

    You obviously know a great deal about the technical end of captioning. I only know the consumer side, and I was pretty much unable to follow the news shows I was watching. I have older relatives who are hard of hearing, both WWII vets, one from ships and the other from bombers. They have had difficulty with TV.

    That is not why I wrote the post, though. I just couldn't follow what I was watching, and looked at more and more over a few days, and most of what I saw was pretty miserably done. However, I did not do a scientific experiment or keep a journal.

    I guess you are saying that what we have now is about as good as it can be. That's unfortunate, particularly as the population ages. Question: Do the Florida broadcasters do better? The elderly population is high in that state.