Closed Captioning During Travel

As Hearing Individuals, you may have heard of Nyle DiMarco, a Deaf man who won America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. If you’re hard of hearing or Deaf, and don’t know of him, look him up. You don’t have to love him or like him to understand the point he makes in his op-ed Teen Vogue on behalf of the Hard of Hearing and Deaf Communities. In it, he speaks about how he struggles with the captioning device during the Black Panther movie, which resulted in him leaving this movie.

For those of you who are Hearing, you may have thought that it’s not for real, or not that big of a deal. But for every hard of hearing and Deaf person out there, the op-ed hits home. And every single part of it is true. I’ve been there, done that myself.

It’s very clear that there is a lack of accessibility for Hard of Hearing and Deaf people in the movie and cinema industry. What’s less clear and evident is the lack of accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (“DHH”) Community in the TRAVEL INDUSTRY.

Stop there for a second and think about this:

DHH people hear with their eyes, not their ears. Or, if you’re like me, you need a blend of both sound and vision.

Yet, most instructions on planes, trains, and buses, are in sound and require ears. Discrepancy, much?

“But there are planes that have videos with closed captioning!” Ok, true. But have you noticed that those that do have the closed captioning are the larger planes that are reserved for flights trans-Atlantic, trans-pacific…or any long-distance flight? Most flights under 5 hours has a smaller plane that doesn’t have tv screens, and even if they do, the safety instructions are done by the crew. For those of us that can’t hear, it’s a silent mime, which is enough to explain how to buckle and unbuckle the seatbelt and give us a rough idea from where the oxygen masks materialize. But after all these years, I still have a hard time understanding where exactly those “emergency” doors are in the plane with their miming. (If you’re a Hearing person, try watching a silent movie and let me know how that goes for you).

Furthermore, closed captioned in-flight entertainment is spotty at best. Some airlines offer it, others do not, so you always have to have something with you to entertain yourself on the flight to your destination. Books, tablets with videos downloaded, word puzzles, and myriad of other things that you need to make sure to bring with you.

BUT, THERE’S HOPE ON THE HORIZON.

Laws are changing in an effort to make our lives easier, even though the fight is far from over for these rights.

The US Federal now requires that all video devices receiving or displaying video programming simultaneously with sound must include closed captioning. By all accounts, the US Department of Transportation recently mandated that:

  • all new in-flight entertainment system (whether newly installed on existing aircraft or on newly delivered aircraft) support closed captions and audio descriptions
  • If a flight doesn’t have accessible in-flight entertainment, it must provide alternative personal entertainment devices with accessible video content
  • Airlines must request content that has closed captions and audio description from video content providers
  • Airlines need to provide users the ability to customize those closed captions.

Keep in mind though, that’s only in the US. Other countries may have other laws governing these rights, which may or may not make the airline industry more accessible to you.

WHAT ABOUT TRAINS AND BUSES?

No such luck. Not even a screen to give anyone any type of announcements. I suspect these industries haven’t changed much since they’ve been invented as a mode of transportation for people, beyond squishing as many people as possible into one metal tube.

IT’S STILL LACKING IN ALL MODES OF TRAVEL…

Because announcements are made vocally, not visually, there’s no way to visually hear why that train has been stuck on the tracks or the bus has been delayed an hour. Likewise, airplane announcements are also voice, with no real-time closed captioning. Your best course of action at that point is to ask someone near-by to either tell you again, or write it out for you.

And always, always bring your own entertainment with you, no matter what is accessible to you, because you never know what will and will not be available. Better safe than sorry.

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