Maryland Public TV to caption programs for deaf viewers

September 02, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Deaf since birth, Adele Shuart says she sometimes has no choice but to watch segments of television news that are not closed captioned.

Closed captioned programs allow Ms. Shuart to watch television and read what the people on the screen are saying as the words appear on her screen. Most of closed captioned TV news is what the anchor people read from their teleprompters, but weather and live reports are not closed captioned.

But if the programmers at Maryland Public Television get their way, every local and regional show broadcast by the Owings Mills station will soon be closed captioned. The station has taken a serious step toward expanding its closed captioning capabilities with the purchase of a $17,000 system enabling it for the first time to caption local and regional shows -- including live broadcasts -- in-house.

Until the system was purchased in May,MPT farmed out all of its programs for captioning. Wall $treet Week was captioned via satellite by a company in Boston. Captioning local live programming was not possible.

Now, the station is training people to caption pre-recorded local programs in-house and is gearing up for its second live closed caption show, Project Reach Out, scheduled to air Sept. 10.

"It's wonderful," says Ms. Shuart, who lives in Ellicott City, and who attended Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. "Now, with closed caption programs, it widens my choice to view programs and gain knowledge of what's going on."

The station is interested in captioning more of its regional shows because of the large population of deaf people in Maryland and the Washington area, many of whom attended or work at Gallaudet. Also, programmers predict the demand for captioned shows will increase next year, when a federal regulation goes into effect mandating that televisions manufactured after January 1993 have a decoder to present the captioning.

"Ideally, as we're doing 100 percent of our programming in color, we'd like to do 100 percent of our programming in closed caption," says Production Manager George Beneman.

Currently about 85 percent of the Public Broadcasting Service's prime time programming is closed captioned, according to Norm Silverstein, MPT's senior vice president for administration. About 65 percent of all programming is closed captioned, he adds, but most are syndicated shows, or shows provided by other public television stations.

Mr. Silverstein estimates in-house captioning is cheaper than farming out the station's programs, which can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500 for an hour-long program.

For its in-house, live closed captioning, the station will hire a stenographer who will sit in a special room during the program, typing what is said. A computer program will then convert the phonetic symbols into English, and send them to be broadcast simultaneously with the program.

Preparation is one of the hardest parts of captioning a live show, says Martin Block, vice president of Washington operations for the Pittsburgh-based closed captioning company CaptionAmerica.

Special names, like those of local politicians, for example, must be given a phonetic code. The computer converting the code must be told of the addition to its library, Mr. Block says. But even after careful preparation, he says, names can crop up during the live program that may have to be spelled out, quickly, letter by letter.

Mr. Block was trained to be a court stenographer, but joined the effort to increase closed caption programming about 10 years ago. He left the court system after talking to a family about the importance of closed captioning to their daughter, who became deaf after contracting measles as a baby.

"I spent the whole night just sitting on the deck, thinking about it," he says. "You just have to talk to these people to see what a difference it makes in their lives."

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