Hearing by Seeing

Often used interchangeably to describe text that appears on audiovisual materials, subtitling and captioning have some key distinctions from each other. And the difference becomes even more critical for businesses wanting to comply with recent regulations designed to improve access of audio and audiovisual materials to those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. So what is the difference between subtitling and captioning?

Subtitles were traditionally found in films to help improve the audio experience for the hearing consumer. Synced with the film’s audio in post-production mode to be seen when the film played, subtitles provided an alternative language option as well as another tool for understanding in the case of a speaker’s strong accent or a film’s poor audio quality.

Captioning broadens that initial focus of subtitling in its audience, purpose, and methods. For individuals with hearing impairments, captioning gives accessibility to audio and audiovisual materials no matter where they are. In a noisy location, busy venue, or room with lots of background noise, captioning becomes a tool for everyone trying to hear what is being said. And while subtitles frequently just relayed key dialogue information, captioning usually takes a more detailed approach. Open captions are always visible, while closed captions can be turned on or off. Like subtitles, captioning can be done offline or in post-production of previously recorded events. Captioning can also be done concurrently with audio and audiovisual presentations and programs, a method referred to as real-time or live captioning. Later this month we’ll talk about who’s using captioning and how.