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Call for Closed Captioning on the Web Heard by Google

December 30, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Most television shows broadcast over the air feature closed captioning, but it's a whole different story when it comes to video on the Internet. Captioning is not routinely available on video entertainment sites, although a bill in Congress would require it - and Google recently announced it will add automatic caption capability for some YouTube channels.

Kerry Malak, communications director with 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 has kind of created this new divide between the hearing and severely hard-of-hearing deaf populations."

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. Estimates are that around 9 percent of Pennsylvanians are either deaf or hard-of-hearing.

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

"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."

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

The bill mentioned is HR 3101, the "21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009."

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA