A Quick Progression of Closed Captioning

by | Jul 11, 2022 | News

For deaf populations, closed captioning is essential for providing a text alternative to audio dialogue and the audio cues that are necessary or relevant to the program’s soundtrack. Closed captioning keeps deaf and hard-of-hearing populations abreast of the program or storyline, just like hearing people without isolating them from experiencing the same range of emotional investment or interest.

Closed captioning wasn’t always as accessible as it is today. In fact, for many deaf people growing up, closed captioning was not yet considered a right, nor was it governed by the FCC as it is now. Find out more about the history of closed captioning and how it became the standard for production.

In the Beginning

Silent films brought both hearing and hard-of-hearing families together to experience entertainment from the late 1800s to the beginning of the 1930s. However, when broadcast television began casting in the late 1920s, deaf viewers were left out of the conversation because there was no way for them to experience the information firsthand.

In 1958, Public Law 85-905 was enacted. It is also known as the Captioned Film Act of 1958 and set forth funding for loan services for captioned films for deaf populations. Early technology and research were funded for captioning, but progress was slow-moving.

As technology continued to grow enough for Neil Armstrong to land on the moon in 1969, deaf populations were frustrated that there was little advancement to include them on Earth in the hearing world.

A Slow Start

By 1971, the deaf man who became known as the father of closed caption, Malcolm Norwood, changed the playing field by working with the Federal Communication Commission to reserve Line 21, or the space at the bottom of the screen, for newly developed closed captioning technology.

The advancements in closed captioning technology were piloted with Julia Child’s 1972 show, The French Chef, followed by a version of ABC’s evening news. Once those roll-outs were deemed successful and necessary, additional funding was granted for more research and development in the field.

Closed Captioning vs. Subtitles

While both closed captioning and subtitles provide a textual alternative to dialogue, there are significant differences between the two. Closed captioning provides more information than subtitles and is legally required, whereas subtitles are often formatted for foreign language films rather than deaf audiences.

Closed Captioning

With over 30,000 million people in the United States with hearing loss, closed captioning is a fundamental right. It provides essential textual information for the audio information viewers are watching in the program. The FCC legally requires it. The information translated into text includes not only dialogue but also other audio cues, including:

  • Sounds
  • Emotions
  • Background noises
  • Tone


While the FCC does not require subtitles, viewers can still access text through closed captioning if they wish. Subtitles only provide a one-to-one text version of the audio dialogue on the screen without additional context. Often, subtitles are included in foreign films to translate for viewers who speak other languages.

Can You Get Hearing Aids From HEAR Center?

Yes, you can. Your HEAR Center audiologist will use your diagnosis and specific hearing challenges to suggest hearing aid choices suitable for your unique needs. They routinely fit and adjust hearing aids from leading manufacturers to patients of all ages, from infants to adults.

Contact us today to learn more about our services or to make an appointment:

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