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“I Can't Do This!” Advocating for Closed Captions

           It was right before February break.
Vacation was so close!

At this point in the year, routines are in place. Relationships
with teachers and other school professionals are established. Consultations
focus on modifying or fine-tuning instruction in anticipation of upcoming
lessons. We’ve covered the basics… or have we?

I walked into my junior high consult on the Thursday before
February vacation. The history teacher sat with a paper face down on his desk.
Somehow, I knew it was for me. He handed me the paper. It was a series of
questions related to the current unit and across the top, my student had
scrawled, “I can’t do this.” Scanning the sheet, I was surprised. The questions
were ones I thought my student was fully prepared to answer. And then the
teacher casually mentioned that the questions were related to a video that had
been shown in class. Naturally, I asked about closed captions. You guessed it!
The CC hadn’t worked for whatever reason and because my student generally does
well, the teacher assumed she’d be fine and could just listen and take notes
along with the rest of the class. He was baffled as to why she hadn’t even
attempted these questions. I realized it was time to revisit closed captions…

           Closed captions are absolutely necessary in order for
students with hearing loss to access audio/visual media used in class for
instructional purposes—or just pure entertainment! As teachers of the deaf /
hard of hearing, we know that even with the use of assistive technology, students
do not have perfect access to sound. In order to ensure comprehension, captions
are essential 100% of the time.

One of my junior high teachers pauses a video about Mt. Everest
with the CC on to model note-taking

But I don’t know how to turn on the closed
Some of my schools are still using DVDs (and even VHS tapes in
one financially burdeneddistrict). While all
DVDs should have closed caption options, each system (computer, television, DVD
player) may have a different way to set up the CC. I’ve found it helpful to
print out instructions and tape them to the back or side of the DVD player or
television. This way, even if there’s a substitute teacher, there’s no excuse
for not using CC. For online resources, commonly used sites such as Brain Pop
and Discovery Streaming, and CNN Student News have CC available. YouTube
captions are notoriously inaccurate with some exceptions. If teachers are
planning to use a YouTube video, I highly recommend that they preview the video
first to make sure the closed captions are appropriate and accurate. Teaching
other students in class how to set up CC for various media also helps,
especially in cases where the teacher may be out.

The captions bother the other students so I
don’t like to use them…
A teacher actually said this to me once! When
teachers use CC in a meaningful way, all students benefit. The names of people
and places are on the screen. Dates are right there in print and key details
can be read for students who are not auditory learners. I’ve watched many
teachers begin to really own the CC, pausing the video at key points so that
students can copy important details into their notes. Framing closed captioning
as a tool that benefits everyone rather than as an accommodation for one
student allows the whole group to embrace CC.

I connected the transmitter with the
splitter like you showed me so she doesn’t need CC…
While a DAI connection
to a media source allows students to listen to media through their HAT system,
it does not replace CC. This connection cannot improve clarity.

It’s in Spanish. They’re supposed to listen
and repeat for practice…
Especially with foreign language, CC are
necessary. Turning on the Spanish CC on a Spanish video for example allows
students with hearing loss to follow along. A second language is even harder to
comprehend than a first language so CC are even more essential.

Well, the homework is to listen to this
podcast. It doesn’t come with CC… 
this situation, the teacher approached me to ask how to accommodate my student.
Originally, he offered to type out a script for my student. While this would be fine for one or two
podcasts, he had many that he planned to use throughout the year. He mentioned
that he also had several TED talks that were similar and did have CC. A
solution was found! Now, when a podcast is assigned, there’s an option to watch
the related TED talk instead. As this teacher astutely pointed out, if my
student needed a visual, there were likely other students who would do better
with that format as well. Offering alternatives allows all students to engage
without singling out the student with hearing loss.

I put the CC on so why didn’t he answer the
comprehension questions?
While reading the CC, students with hearing loss
are not able to take notes simultaneously. If they look down to write a
response, they will miss the next portion of the video. Alternatives include
pausing the video and giving all students an opportunity to write, allowing the
student with hearing loss to copy responses from a designated note taker, or,
my first choice, allowing the student to receive a copy of teacher provided
answers prior to watching the video. While sometimes perceived as cheating,
previewing information allows the student with hearing loss to better follow
along while watching the video as they know the important information to tune

It’s Friday before vacation. This video’s
just for fun so we didn’t bother with the CC…
Even if it’s not educational,
CC are still necessary. Students with hearing loss deserve equal access to all
aspects of their education—even the fun parts! Not using CC means that the
student may not be able to engage in the social conversations later and could
feel left out or confused. If it’s happening in school, CC are mandatory.

I’m. Not. Using. Captions. One year I
had a high school teacher who was incredibly difficult to work with and for
reasons I still don’t understand, adamantly refused to use CC. I enlisted the
help of my liaison at the school, and together we advocated all the way up to
the special education director. In the end, my student was moved to a different
history class where the teacher was more accommodating. This may not always be
an option but my students’ needs come first.

most importantly, remember that training students to advocate for closed
captions is highly effective. Teachers often hear students in a different way
than they hear us when it comes to what’s needed in the classroom. Practicing
for situations involving captions (through role play and conversational scripting),
and then supporting their requests allows students to feel confident—even when
we’re not there.

How do you advocate for the use of closed captions?

Hear Me Out

The Hear Me Out blog provides unique resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's a forum for itinerant teachers of the deaf to share their experiences as they grow as professionals! It is produced by Clarke's Mainstream Services team as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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