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Call for Closed Captioning on the Web Heard by Google

December 29, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. - The explosion of video and audio on the Internet has, for the most part, left the deaf community behind in Virginia and elsewhere, but that is starting to change. A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Representative James Moran, Democrat of Virginia, would require closed captioning on the 'Net, and Google will now add automatic caption capability to some videos on its popular YouTube site.

Most TV shows broadcast over the air offer captioning, but it's a whole different story when it comes to video on the Internet, where it is not routinely available on video entertainment sites.

Kerry Malak, communications director at the Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, says the lack of captioning has resulted in a type of "caste system" on the Web.

"It's really kind of created this new divide between the hearing and severely hard-of-hearing deaf populations."

Malak says that as more people shift to the Internet to view news and entertainment video, the lack of captioning becomes a greater concern.

"Most of the online TV content is not captioned at all yet either, which is a big problem, because you are used to seeing that on your TV.

According to Google, machine-generated captions will initially be available only in English, and on videos only on certain partner channels, with hopes of extending the feature to all videos eventually."

Malak says the deaf and hard-of-hearing population is expected to grow as baby boomers age, so there will be greater demand for high-quality captioning systems.

U.S. Census data show nearly six percent of Virginians are hard of hearing, meaning they have difficulty hearing normal conversations. One-half of one percent of Virginians are deaf, and unable to hear normal conversation at all.

The bill to require Internet closed captioning is HR 3101, the "21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009."

Aries Keck, Public News Service - VA