Expand Closed-Captioning For Hearing-ImpairedThe last...


September 05, 1993

Expand Closed-Captioning For Hearing-Impaired

The last session of the Maryland General Assembly left at least one group of Maryland citizens up in arms and vowing to be back next year for another try. This group is those who are deaf or who have varying degrees of hearing loss, and they were referring to the defeat of HB 959 by Del. Martin Madden of sub-District 13B (Howard and Prince George's counties).

HB 959 would have required that a much larger number of general audience videotapes sold or rented in Maryland be closed-captioned, a process that would allow viewers with hearing loss to read rather than hear the dialogue from the film's sound track.

The process of closed captioning is not new. It has been around for more than 15 years and has provided unprecedented access to TV and film media for Maryland's estimated 350,000 citizens with varying degrees of hearing loss. To produce a closed-captioned TV program or videotape, the dialogue is encoded in a special signal that is broadcast or transmitted simultaneously with the program or video. This signal is picked up by a decoder and shows the dialogue on three lines near the bottom of the TV screen. No captions appear on TVs without such decoders, thus the term closed captioning. Open captions, on the other hand, would be seen on any TV turned to the program or video.

Testimony favoring HB 959 by the Maryland Association of the Deaf (MDAD) and other groups of deaf and hard-of-hearing people indicated that approximately 5 to 10 percent of the total video productions available to consumers are closed-captioned. They also pointed out that the cost of captioning is low, averaging between $2,000 and $4,000 for a full-length film and that as the volume of films captioned increases, the cost decreases.

They argue that compared with the total budget for films, often in excess of $25 million, a few thousand dollars is small change and the industry's greed for profits is the basic reason it doesn't want to caption films.

Equally important in the testimony from these groups was the economic impact HB 959 would have on the state from a larger consumer base, increased profits for retailers and video rental outlets, increased revenue to the state from sales taxes and the possibility of creating new jobs for Marylanders in the captioning industry itself.

The pleas of these deaf and hard-of-hearing groups literally fell on deaf ears as the House of Delegates' Economic Matters Committee killed the measure, 20-6. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) played a key role in the defeat, bringing out its big guns and considerable resources to lobby hard against the bill. MPAA stated that the majority of films now being produced are captioned, an assertion denied by the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. MPAA also claimed that the industry will have widespread captioning within the next five years, a claim that the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities also say will not happen without legislative prodding. Delegate Madden, in accepting defeat of his bill, stated, "Although we have lost the battle for this year, we have not yet lost the war." The delegate plans to try again with a similar bill next year. . . .

The bottom line is there are 350,000 people in Maryland who are needlessly being cut off from enjoying most film media that everyone who can hear takes for granted, and now is the time to remind the General Assembly that these 350,000 constituents

with hearing loss deserve a break on this one.

Willis J. Mann


Nature's Power

Driving home from Howard County recently, I had the pleasure of driving through one of our region's patented late afternoon summertime thunderstorms. Having gone through the experience before could not prepare me for the monstrous clap of thunder that erupted from the sky above me and simultaneously seemed to fill the air and all spaces around me. It was a salvo from Mother Nature's arsenal that would certainly shake the heartiest of souls.

After composing myself again behind the wheel, I began to ponder how easy and logical it was for primitive man to harbor such reverence for nature. Then, and still now, and often without warning, a volcano may erupt, an earthquake might rip the ground and swallow whole the contents of the surface or a hurricane might carve out a path of destruction, tossing the toys of civilization to and fro like so many specs of dust caught in a vacuum.

Yes, primitive man understood, or rather, did not need to understand the hows and whys of nature, he simply knew that he had to co-exist; and, existing successfully meant treading lightly on this Mother Earth. We heeded this tenet of survival until the last 100 years or so.

Continuing the drive home, I listened as my car radio spewed forth more news of the Mighty Mississippi, swollen and full of reverence.

T. Jenkins, Sr.


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