History Through Deaf Eyes – Captioning and The “Chip Bill”

Captioning of television and movies changed deaf life. Since 1958, deaf people have gathered in clubrooms or schools to see films, often captioned as a program of the U.S. Department of Education.

As closed captioning became more available, deaf people could watch films at home, and catch the evening news along with the rest of society. Clubs were no longer needed as places to share information and enjoy entertainment. Many closed as deaf people chose other ways to stay in touch with friends.

Woman works on many closed captioning technologies

Many technological developments have served to bring oral and signing deaf people together in common cause. For example, an array of professional, social, and political action organizations of deaf people worked together to ensure passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act in 1993, which required all new television sets with a screen 13 inches or larger made in the U.S.A., to incorporate closed captioning technology.

Two captioning operators sit at the table with monitors

Here, “real-time” captions are displayed on the screen during a conference at Gallaudet University. The spoken word is transferred to text as captions are added to a film.

Gallaudet University Archives

Photo of a captioning decoder on top of a television as Peter Jennings of ABC News is depicted in the TV monitor.

Closed captioning makes it possible for deaf people to access news and entertainment programs on the television. It has also proved helpful to persons learning English as a second language.

National Captioning Institute

Deaf protester hold the CBS sign WE WANT CAPTIONS

Deaf protesters outside the CBS headquarters in New York City want the corporation to provide closed captioning for programs. Deaf people, largely through the efforts of the National Association of the Deaf, continue to fight for increased captioning of television programs and films.

Group of deaf people sitting on couches watching home movies.

For 32 years, this group in Maryland has met at each other’s home to watch captioned films and videos. Courtesy of Barry Bergey.