Libraries and the ADA: Providing Accessible Media to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People

by Gail Kovalik and Frank Kruppenbacher
MC Journal: The Journal of Academic Media Librarianship, v.2 no.1, Winter 1994:1-19.


Approximately 9 percent of the American population is deaf or hard of hearing. (Hotchkiss 1987,1) For these individuals, access to entertainment films that the American public enjoys, or to the wide range of educational films and videos available to hearing students, or to television programming, is severely limited. This article discusses the Captioned Films/Videos for the Deaf (CF/VD) Program, other providers of captioned films and videos, pre-recording and real-time captioning of television programs, and assistive devices such as the closed-captioning decoder, which seek to address these limitations. Included are strategies that public, school, and media librarians who work with deaf people can use to facilitate access to captioned materials.


In July 1990, Congress enacted Public Law 101-336--the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a federal effort to prohibit discrimination based on one's disability. ADA laws apply to many private and public employers [Title 1], state and local government agencies [Title 2], places of public accommodation [Title 3], transportation facilities [Title 2 & 3], telephone companies [Title 4], and the United States Congress [Title 5].

Public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctor's offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers, may not discriminate on the basis of disability. Furthermore, the ADA mandates that "public accommodations must provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals with vision or hearing impairments or other individuals with disabilities so that they can have an equal opportunity to participate or benefit, unless an undue burden would result." The ADA emphasizes that "appropriate auxiliary aids and services [must be furnished] where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities." (Federal Register 1991,36.303)

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Auxiliary aids and services may include qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed-captioning decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (variously abbreviated TDDs, TTYs or TTs), videotext displays, "or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments." (Federal Register 1991, 36.303)

The law further states that "if providing a particular auxiliary aid would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations being offered or in an undue burden, i.e. significant difficulty or expense, the public accommodation must provide an alternative auxiliary aid or service, if one exists, that would not result in an alteration or burden and would, to the maximum extent possible provide effective communication." (Rules and Regulations 1991,36.303) However, the ADA suggests a collaborative approach to providing useful communication through auxiliary aids and services for individuals with hearing impairments. Individuals requesting auxiliary aids or services, and places of public accommodation are encouraged to work together so that individuals receive an adequate level of service and places of public accommodation comply with the law.

Copies of the full text of the ADA are available from Document Room, Senate Hall Office B, Room B-04, Washington, D.C. 20510. Additional information about the ADA and its impact on deaf people is available in the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders' INFORMATION RESOURCES FOR THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT: ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY, available from NIDCD Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health, P.O. Box 37777, Washington, D.C. 20013-7777 (telephone 1-800-241-1044 voice, 1-800-241-1055 TTY). Other organizations that can provide information on the ADA are:

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The ADA does "not specifically require a public accommodation [such as a library or museum] to alter its inventory to include accessible or special goods that are designed for, or facilitate use by individuals with disabilities." However, "a public accommodation shall order accessible or special goods at the request of the individual with a disability, if, in the normal course of its operation, it makes special orders on request for unstocked goods, and if the accessible or special goods can be obtained from a supplier with whom the public accommodation customarily does business." (Federal Register 1991,36.707) Examples of "accessible or special goods "may include items such as braille versions of books, books on audiocassettes, and captioned videotapes.

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All librarians, especially media librarians, should be aware of the auxiliary aids and services that a public accommodation like a library can employ to serve the needs of individuals with hearing impairments. These include:

Libraries that provide videotape viewing areas to the public could also provide a caption decoding device or caption-ready television set. "The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990" (Public Law 101-431) requires that all new TV sets measuring 13

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inches or larger diagonally that are made after July 1,1993, for sale in the United States, have built-in computer chips making them capable of receiving and displaying captions." (Bowe and Sonnenstrahl 1993,5)


"Captioning is the text display of spoken words, music, sounds, and sound effects presented on a television screen" or VCR monitor. "Captioning allows the viewer to follow the dialogue and the action of a program simultaneously. Captions can also provide information about who is speaking or about soundeffects (SFX) that cannot be experienced by the deaf or hard of hearing viewer but that may be important to understanding the ...story." (Captioning n.d.) Captions can be open or closed, edited or verbatim, pre-recorded or real-time.

OPEN CAPTIONS appear on all receivers and can be viewed without the use of a decoder on all televisions. CLOSED CAPTIONS are those transmitted with the television program to the television receiver on one or more of the twenty-one lines that comprise the vertical blanking interval (VBI) on American television. The VBI is that portion of the television picture not visible to the viewer, which carries important data signals about the picture on the screen. The digital information which is input (or coded) on one or more of these lines then must be interpreted (or decoded) to be displayed. In December 1971, the National Bureau of Standards showed that this technology could be used to provide captioning, and approximately one year later PBS began work to make the system a reality. The system developed used only the twenty-first line of the VBI, and thus is known as the Line 21 System. (Okrand 1987,264)

WGBH of Boston led the way in developing new technologies for closed captioning of television programs. A nationwide service began in 1980 on ABC, NBC, and PBS, with closed captioning produced by the newly founded National Captioning Institute (NCI). A closed captioned program is broadcast the same way any other program is broadcast. When a decoder is attached to the

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receiving television, the decoder can "open up" the closed captioning, making it visible on the screen. Closed captioned programs that are recorded off air onto videotape will contain the hidden Line 21 captioning, which can then be made visible using a decoder.

VERBATIM CAPTIONS include, word for word, all that is said. EDIT CAPTIONS, or INSTRUCTIONAL CAPTIONS, summarize ideas, shorten phrases, and often rephrase what is said to adapt it to specific reading levels. Although there are situations in which edit captions have been preferred for ease in reading, most deaf and hard-of-hearing adults prefer the full access provided by verbatim captions.

PRE-RECORDED CAPTIONS are used for programs on videotape. Captions are usually prepared before viewing time and made part of the tape. The captioner views and listens to a videotape of a program, prepares a transcript, edits the script into chunks of communication (simultaneously editing out extraneous material),types the new script into a computer, and decides where and when the captions should appear on the screen. A "captioned" tape is created by playing the non-captioned program on one machine, the captions on another, and integrating the two into a new videotape that contains audio, video, and captions. REAL-TIME CAPTIONS are created as the event unfolds, and can be used for press conferences, emergency news bulletins, and special events. These captions are typed into an electronic stenotype machine, similar to those used in courtrooms. A computer reads the stenocaptioner's shorthand and translates the words into captions, which are then projected on the screen. As this process occurs "live" and relies on a vocabulary stored in the software of the computer, misspellings and errors can and do occur during transcription.

The September/October 1993 issue of SHHH JOURNAL features several articles on captioning, captioned videos, resources and agencies, television networks, cable networks, and home video distributors. This single issue is available for $4.50 from Self

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Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH), 7800 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814 (telephone 301-657-2248 voice, 301- 657-2249 TTY). For further information, contact the following organizations:


Public Law 85-905 delegated to the Commissioner of Education the administration of the CF/VD program. The purposes, as set forth in the law, are threefold: "to bring to deaf persons understanding and appreciation of those films which play an important part in the general and cultural advancement of hearing persons; to provide, through these films, enriched educational and cultural experiences through which deaf persons can be brought into better touch with the realities of their environment; and to provide a wholesome and rewarding experience which deaf persons may share together." (Catalog of Captioned Feature and Special Interest Films/Videos for the Deaf 1992/1993,v)

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Under the provisions of P.L. 85-905, Captioned Films/Videos for the Deaf was authorized to "acquire films (or rights thereto)by purchase, lease, or gift, provide for the captioning of films,provide for distribution of captioned films through state schools for the deaf and such other agencies as the Secretary may deem appropriate to serve as local or regional centers for such distribution, make use, consistent with the purposes of this Act,of films made available to the Library of Congress under copyright laws, utilize the facilities and services of other governmental agencies, and accept gifts, contributions and voluntary and uncompensated services of individuals and organizations." (Catalog of Captioned Feature and Special Interest Films/Videos for the Deaf 1992/1993,v)

The CF/VD program includes two areas, captioned entertainment films (captioned feature and special interest films and videos) and captioned educational materials. Currently, the Captioning and Adaptation Branch of the U.S. Department of Education provides funds for purchase, captioning, and administration of the program, but it is contracted to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Modern Talking Picture Service (MTPS) in St. Petersburg, Florida. The NAD selects educational videos, NCI captions them, and MTPS distributes educational and theatrical films and videos.

Feature Films:
Captioned films are generally not available for deaf audiences until long after they have been available to hearing audiences. This occurs because purchase or lease of theatrical films by the U.S. Department of Education and captioning of these materials is such a lengthy process. There can be a lag of many months between when a feature film first appears in movie theaters around the country and the time that it is available for loan through CF/VD. Some movies will never be made available through CF/VD--because the producers will not agree to captioning, the leasing/purchase costs are too high, or a number of other reasons.

CF/VD has an extensive catalog of currently available 16mm films and videos (Catalog of Captioned Feature and Special Interest Films and Videos for the Hearing Impaired, 1992/93) which includes all information necessary for ordering these free-loan films and videos. Because of commercial restrictionson certain types of films, captioned feature films are restricted to use by deaf persons, and only groups that include three or more deaf persons may qualify to receive free loans. Borrowers must establish an account with MTPS before being eligible to borrow captioned feature films, however, no fee is involved in establishing an account. Copies of the catalog are available by contacting Modern Talking Picture Service, 5000 Park Street North, St. Petersburg, FL 33709 (telephone 813-545-8781 or 1-800-237-6213, voice or TTY).

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Producers are beginning to recognize the potential market for close-captioned videos of newly released movies. Besides members of the deaf community, people who are hard of hearing and people for whom English is a second language can benefit from the use of captioned feature movies and special interest programs. The visual display of English words with the spoken words also can reinforce reading skills for children and adult learners.

Educational Films:
Under Public Law 87-715 in the 1960s, the CF/VD program was expanded to include acquisition, adaptation, production, and distribution of captioned films, and the training of staff. Workshops and institutes were held annually around the United States to introduce and train teachers in the use of media and other instructional materials. In 1969, more than 700 schools had at least one person on staff who was familiar with instructional media, and by 1974 more than 15,000 teachers of deaf students had received some kind of training in its use. (Gannon 1981,269)

Until October 1991, judges from twenty-five of the nation's schools for the deaf convened annually to select the few productions of the thousands of educational films and videos available in the marketplace that were suitable for captioning and distribution to deaf children. Because of the massive movement toward the videocassette format, CF/VD has stopped purchasing new 16mm films for captioning. Presently all new media from CF/VD is available only in video format. Before a video was even subjected to scrutiny at one of these judging sessions, it had to be directly or indirectly endorsed by other educators of deaf students for its suitability in deaf education.The educator-judges, all highly respected master teachers of deaf children, looked for materials that would complete the instructional curriculum from pre-school through adult education. Based on these "Validation Workshops," the CF/VD program coordinator submitted purchase recommendations to the Captioning and Adaptation Branch of the U.S. Department of Education, which then ordered approximately 100 titles from the

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original producers. These were captioned and deposited in regional libraries for circulation to schools for the deaf and other eligible audiences without charge.

Adaptation of videos for the CF/VD Program included creation of teachers' lesson guides, written by thirty master teachers at a national workshop each summer. The lesson guides prepared for each title, provided teachers with objectives, activities, and reproducible teaching graphics, enabling them to address the needs of deaf learners. At the annual captioning writing workshop, educators of deaf persons who were particularly strong in language adaptation prepared caption scripts for each video.

In October 1991, however, the NAD was awarded a three-year contract for video selection and captioning of educational videos by the U.S. Department of Education. Distribution is, as before,under contract to MTPS. Working with staff from Gallaudet University, a project director in South Carolina, and using the services of the NCI, NAD proposes to screen and caption educational videos in a shorter time frame than was possible through the annual video judging-validating-captioning workshops. This might imply verbatim captioning of educational videos in the future rather than caption writing with language adaptation for deaf children; during this contract period, educators will be carefully monitoring the quality of captioning from NAD-NCI to determine how the captions meet the educational needs of deaf schoolchildren.

Educators with at least one hearing-impaired learner in their classes, or professionals in the field of deafness, can request bookings for any of the educational captioned titles (videos and 16mm films) through their regional depository library. The CF/VD catalog includes a listing of these depository libraries. Media librarians at depository libraries can help with selection of appropriate captioned educational materials for schools and media libraries. Captioned productions cover all levels of instruction from preschool to adult education, encompassing all major areas of the curriculum. Most productions

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come with teachers' lesson guides that summarize the content of the films or videos, highlight vocabulary, and suggest classroom follow-up activities. Although each regional depository library currently has approximately 2,000 titles in its collection, this represents only about 10 percent of the teaching media on the market available to hearing students.


While CF/VD has been the primary source of captioned materials (both educational and entertainment) for some years, today hearing-impaired people and library media specialists can select from several open-captioned productions available from a variety of producers. A very recent publication, GROPEN'S GUIDE TO CLOSED CAPTIONED VIDEO, is probably the most comprehensive(at 550 pages) and accurate listing to date for more than 5,000 closed captioned videos. Each entry lists a brief program description, cast, director, running time, rating, retail price, captioner/producer, etc. Titles are grouped under twenty-three subject categories, with a complete alphabetical index. Other indices in GROPEN'S GUIDE list captioning companies, video suppliers, and distributors. The guide is available for $29.95 plus $3.50 shipping from either SHHH Publications, 7800 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814 (telephone 301-657-2248 voice, 301-657-2249 TTY), or Caption Database Inc., 1 Walker's Way, Framingham, MA 01701 (telephone 508-620-6222 TTY).

Also, Critics Choice Video, a direct marketer of feature films on VHS video, offers a special service for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Information on captioned films and a search line for locating specific titles/stars/subjects is available on their toll-free TTY line. Contact Critics Choice Video, 800 Morse Avenue, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007 (telephone 1-800-544-9852 voice, 1-800-272-2900 TTY).

In addition, library media specialists should consider collecting or borrowing captioned foreign films and silent classics. Such films or videos, made available either through home loan or through programs at the library, provides entertainment both for general and hearing-impaired users.

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There are more than 100 agencies that now provide captioning services for television and/or video productions. Several of these agencies, taken from a list in the September/October 1993 issue of SHHH JOURNAL and from a list at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY, are listed below. For a more extensive list, write the NICD; their address was given earlier in this paper.


Public librarians who are attuned to the needs of the disabled community, and school librarians who are involved with integrating the exceptional person into regular classroom programs, must be aware of the special requirements of the approximately 9 percent of the American population who is deaf or hard of hearing and for whom oral communication is particularly difficult. For the one to three percent who are

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profoundly and prevocationally deaf (deafened before the age of 19), reading is also often a significant challenge because it involves interpreting symbols of speech. Furthermore, as the American "baby boom" generation ages, and health services increase the life span of adults, librarians will also be called upon to serve an older and larger deaf or hearing-impaired population. These hard-of-hearing or late-deafened adults will have increased needs for captioned entertainment films and videos, and as many look to career changes or adult education, increased needs for more captioned educational films or videos as well. Other groups that could be well served by access to captioned feature and educational materials are those who are learning English as a second language, young children who are learning to read and write, and functionally illiterate adults. Librarians also should be aware of the need to "advertise" their close-captioned holdings. If a video is close captioned, this information should be shown on the video itself, the video box, and in the library's catalog to help users in locating these special materials. Decoders should be available in all media or audiovisual centers for previewing by deaf patrons, and, when new television equipment is considered for purchase, librarians should examine television monitors with decoder chips.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 served as a first step in breaking down the barriers that kept people with disabilities out of the American mainstream. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 goes a step further in providing that "no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of all programs, activities or services of state or local governments, regardless of the receipt of Federal financial assistance." The spirit of this new law empowers librarians and libraries to reach out to the hearing-impaired and deaf segment of the population through alternate means--including new assistive devices and the use of captioned media to entertain and to teach.

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Gail Kovalik is Staff Resource Center Specialist at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.

Frank Kruppenbacher is Programming Coordinator in the Department of Instructional Television at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.

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