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Whither captions?

3 July 2007

I’ve been appalled that iTunes movies and TV shows, Amazon UnBox videos, and most online network content feeds don’t have captions for audio. I understand that there are reasons — just like there were reasons that I didn’t clean my room when I was a kid, or why I didn’t get my project finished on time, or what have you. But the ‘reasons’ are of no consequence to someone who pays good money for a film or video, or sits through an (often captioned!) advertisement, only to find that the media isn’t captioned. So if I want captions, I’ll have to set my TiVo, or rent DVDs (the vast majority of which are captioned).

But how bad is this? I checked the web sites of some well-known presidential candidates: Romney, Clinton, Giuliani, Obama, McCain, and Edwards. Each of the candidates has dozens of videos on their web sites. Some candidates have podcasts.

Romney has, as of today, more than a hundred videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Clinton has, as of today, about 35 videos, and none is captioned. None of her podcasts has a transcript. (Her husband uses hearing aids.)

Giuliani has, as of today, 63 videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Obama has, as of today, about 35 videos, and 7 are captioned. None of his podcasts have transcripts.

McCain has, as of today, about 75 videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Edwards has, as of today, about 75 videos, and none is captioned. None of his podcasts have captions.

I find it mindboggling. Candidates will do anything to get their message out to as many people as possible. Flying hither and yon, press conferences, the whole bit. But there are more than a million people in the US who have hearing loss bad enough that they need captions to understand video, or transcripts for audio. There are services that will caption or transcribe for pennies per minute (sure, all the way up to a couple of bucks a minute for 24-hour turnaround). So, it would cost, what, ten bucks per video clip to open your audience by A MILLION PEOPLE. This is the simplest economics you can imagine. Even it if it’s only a hundred people, heck, that’s only a few cents per voter — way less than they spend on those shiny brochures that are filling up my mailbox.

Now for the technicalities. Federal funds can be spent on these campaigns, right? That little box that people check on their tax returns, that allocates federal money for election campaigns? Well, remember this little ditty?

“Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency[cite]

And this one?

“Public funding of Presidential elections means that qualified Presidential candidates receive federal government funds to pay for the valid expenses of their political campaigns in both the primary and general elections.”[cite]

Now, is any one (or more) of the following statements untrue?

  1. Campaigns are run by ‘organizations’.
  2. The FEC is an ‘agency’ of the Federal government.
  3. The FEC provides ‘financial assitance’ to presidential candidates’ organizations who request and qualify.
  4. People who are profoundly deaf have a ‘disability’ and cannot access audio without captions or transcripts.
  5. Campaign organizations are disseminating audio information without captions or transcripts.
  6. Campaign organizations are discriminating against deaf people by refusing access to candidates’ messages by providing them only in audio format, with no text equivalent. (A little hint on this one — Section 508 makes it pretty specific in 1194.22[a] and [b].)

So, candidates, if you’re planning on accepting federal funds (and, sure, some of you have already said you wouldn’t), you’d better hop on the bandwagon. But even if you won’t take public money, the economics are undeniably in favor of textualizing your audio message, whether or not the law requires it. Keep that in mind.

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