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Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

Captioning and Interpreting of Films and Videos: Do Both Have a Place?

By Sheila Chapman

Captioning Versus Interpreting

When a film or video has no captions, then it also has no value to a person with a hearing loss. That is, unless it is interpreted. I am a registered interpreter, and I have interpreted many films and videos. But to do so bothers me, because I believe that captioning is better. The Chicago Institute for the Moving Image, which sponsors the Festival for Cinema of the Deaf, thinks so too and states: "Clearly, open captioning, with all words and sounds translated into text directly on the movie screen, provides the best experience for deaf and hard of hearing audiences."

A sign language interpreter works in front of a stage.

Where do teachers and educational interpreters find open-captioned videos? Answer: the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP). What is the DCMP, and why should an interpreter know about it? Those are good questions. I'll answer them by sharing my personal experiences below.

Growing Up With Captioned Films

Subtitled, or captioned, films have been an important and ongoing part of my life. Unlike my hearing friends, my growing up did not include family time on Sunday evening watching "The Ed Sullivan Show." This was because TV was not captioned, and my parents were deaf.

Instead, we spent our Sunday evenings at the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) watching captioned movies! OOPS, I mean movies with subtitles . . . or do I mean captioned? Actually, it was a little of both. During the '20s and '30s, silent films were subtitled. In the late '50s and early '60s, captioned movies made their debut, thanks to the Federal Government and Public Law 85-905. The movies we watched at ISD were the highlight of our week. (At least, my parents' week. I must confess I was more interested in chatting with my deaf friends or playing hide and seek outside the ISD auditorium.) Little did I know how captioned films would continue to play a part in my life.

My First Interpreting of Films

As a freelance interpreter during the 1970s, I was privileged to be asked to interpret uncaptioned films for deaf persons who were evaluating media quality for Captioned Films for the Deaf (now known as the DCMP). Wow, what a workout! I didn't realize how involved the task would be. My job was to interpret all the information on the films and videos: music, background sounds, multiple conversations, and whatever was happening on the screen.

As the film/video concluded, the deaf evaluators often also asked me to share my impressions of the quality of the audio and speed of the narration. I would also tell them about any information I may have left out during the interpreting, due to lack of time. I never realized, until this experience, how much information could be lost to deaf viewers as I interpreted a film because their attention was on me and not on the film. It quickly became apparent to me how much better it is when such viewers can watch a captioned film and see the dialog and background sounds scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

Of course, videos and films can be interpreted in the classroom! If they are not captioned, it is essential. But often the interpreter sits with his or her back to the media being used and, therefore, must rely solely on what they hear. Because of this, parts of the message can easily be misinterpreted and valuable information can be lost. An interpreter can prepare by viewing any uncaptioned film before it is used in class and, thus, be better able to "fill in gaps" during the actual interpreting. But it just makes sense to use the captioned material whenever it is available. And that is where the DCMP comes in.

The DCMP: More Complete Access

There are thousands of captioned media items in the DCMP collection, and they are FREE-LOAN for any teacher who has a student with a hearing loss. (Families and others can use DCMP too!) A visit to the DCMP Web site at will reveal captioned media on virtually all subjects and for all grade levels. There are also videos in the catalog promoting self-study, skill building, and vocabulary development, as well as information on deaf culture, deaf history, and much more. And teachers love those lesson plans that accompany each educational captioned media item.

So, my fellow interpreters, steer your teachers toward captioning and the DCMP. And while you're at it, you will want to know that the DCMP also has professional development media for interpreters. Beginning signers will love the opportunity to sharpen their skills by watching DCMP sign-language training videos.

Don't miss out!

About the author

Sheila lives in Jacksonville, Illinois with her husband Jess (who also has been involved with the CMP). She has worked as a freelance interpreter for 30 years and recently retired from the Illinois School for the Deaf as an administrative assistant to the superintendent and interpreter/interpreter coordinator. Furthermore, she has been actively working within the state of Illinois to develop credentialing for educational interpreters and providing opportunities for educational interpreters to be evaluated using the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA) from the Boys Town Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.

Tags: captioning, asl-interpreters

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