Disappearing Captions:  A Strike at the Power of Inclusive Technology

Notice anything missing on your family television set lately? No, your captioning mechanism is not broken.  Many shows have had their captioning funding pulled. You can thank the US Department of Education, who recently declared almost 200 television shows inappropriate for captioning by the department's Technology and Media Services for Individuals with Disabilities program, effective October 1, 2003. Advocacy groups are calling upon President Bush to overturn this decision.  The National Association of the Deaf's President Andrew J. Lange categorizes the Department's action as government censorship that contradicts President Bush's promotion of family values and parental accountability.

Similar efforts to censor captioning in 1998 were met by a massive, nationwide outcry of consumer protest.

Under the current guidelines, applicants for captioning grants take into account the preferences of consumers, through grantee Consumer Advisory Boards (CABs) and other feedback mechanisms, when selecting "educational, news, or informational" programs for captioning. The recent decision to pull funding from almost 200 television shows inappropriate for captioning apparently was based on an external panel of five unnamed individuals.

According to federal rulemaking processes, the public should have been provided with an opportunity to present written opinions on the proposed narrowed definition of "educational, news, or informational" programs for captioning.  Nancy J. Bloch, NAD Executive Director, said, "This action also segregates over 28 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals from access to the same shows as everyone else in America." In addition, Bloch added, families of persons with a hearing loss(parents, siblings, and grandparents in particular) bring the number of persons adversely impacted to many millions more.

Most of the censored shows are in fact educational and informative.  The shows range from fixtures in American culture to new shows such as "Law & Order".  Deaf and hard of hearing children will no longer have access to shows like "Disney Monthly Original Children's Movies" and the "Pokemon' cartoons, and thus miss out on conversations at the school lunch table, on the playground, and in the classroom Virtually all sports programming has been censored, isolating deaf and hard of hearing people even from their own families. The censorship of these shows not only prevent deaf and hard of hearing children from watching shows that help them learn about the trends, culture, language, and the society around them, censorship also prevents deaf and hard of hearing parents from making informed decisions on appropriate programming for their children. "Without captioning, millions of deaf and hard of hearing parents, such as myself, are unable to preview shows for appropriate content for their children, to watch television programming with their families, or to engage in dialogue with their children in response to televised programs. Education does not stop at the schoolhouse door.  My duties and responsibilities as a parent to pass on our family values to my children has been undermined by a few government officials," said Lange who called upon the President to practice what he preaches and restore parental authority by overturning the recent censorship decision.

Similar efforts to censor captioning in 1998 were met by a massive, nationwide outcry of consumer protest. These censorship efforts 5 years ago failed, in part, because then-Department of Education Secretary Richard W. Riley affirmed that the government should not "supersede the individual judgment of millions of deaf Americans" nor should the Department single out particular television programs resulting in a denial of access for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. (See Riley's letter in references below.)

Consumers Take Action:

There is power in numbers. Consumers are encouraged to share their views and opinions with Congressional members and Department of Education officials; contact information is available at:

http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home/ .

For a list of recently approved and disapproved television programs for U.S. Department of Education captioning support, go to this web site:


See Secretary Riley's letter at:


National Association of the Deaf (NAD) website:  www.nad.org .

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