Seeking A Universal Caption “On” Switch

Posted on 16 August 2007. Filed under: Advocacy, Rants |

This blog post is partly just a rant. If you’ve ever had trouble turning on the caption decoder in an unfamiliar television set while traveling, then this rant should be very familiar to you. But I’m also writing this in order to appeal for practical ideas for a solution (or for information, if there is something already in the works that I don’t know about). And by “solution,” no, I do NOT mean solutions for my individual case or yours. I mean, something universal that will make it easier for ANY traveling deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing impaired person to QUICKLY AND EASILY turn on the captions in ANY television set, even if its remote control looks like the control board for an alien space ship. In other words, we need a standardized way to turn the caption decoder on (or off) on any television set.


My Rant Follows Below
(If ranting bores you, then feel free to just skip the rant and scroll further down to the more pragmatic part of this post)

As it happens, I am writing this post while currently on vacation. First, I was in Boston for a few days with a hearing friend of my partner. Our first night there happened to be Friday night — if you’re a Sci-Fi fan, then you know that means Dr. Who night. After we got back to the apartment after a late dinner out, we started trying to figure out how to turn on the caption decoder in the friend’s television set (not having had a chance earlier). Yes, I know: with MOST remote controls for MOST television sets, the most promising starting point is the “menu” button. And my partner knows that too.

Well, we tried every option listed under the “menu” button for the television that seemed even remotely promising, and none of them panned out. Finally my partner found out that we could turn on the caption decoder by playing around with certain buttons on the television set itself. Possibly there was some equivalent way to do it from the remote control, but we simply couldn’t find it. By the time we got the decoder on, we had missed the first 15 minutes of Dr. Who. Granted, there are far worse things in life than missing the first part of your favorite television show (see my other, new blog at for examples of REAL problems). But it’s still annoying to miss something you wanted to see simply because the remote control either doesn’t have the switch for the caption decoder or makes it essentially impossible to find.

My partner and I are now staying with hearing relatives of hers in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of (I mean, even if you were hearing 😉 ) in New Hampshire. Naturally, we turned the caption decoder on the first night here. But again, it took a good 15 minutes to succeed. (This does not count a nameless person’s attempt–certainly not me or my partner–to turn on the captions by doing something with the sound system!) This, despite the fact that this television set was more standard than the one we used in Boston. At least here, the caption decoder is found under “menu” as you would usually expect, even though it is for some strange reason listed under “Screen.” The caption decoder is the ONLY thing under “Screen” in the “menu” button for this RCA television set,. So I don’t know why they don’t just LABEL it “caption decoder.” If they had, that would have saved us a good five or ten minutes right there.

Even then, we could only get captions on broadcasted television programming–not on the DVD we were trying to watch. It took until the following night before we discovered that there was a SEPARATE caption decoder in their DVD player that ALSO needed to be turned on, or else captions just don’t work on DVDs. That seems to me a stupid way to design a caption decoder. They should be set up so that only one caption decoder, whether in the television set or in the DVD player, should be enough to turn the captions on the DVDs you want to watch. And never, never NEVER set up so that the “off” switch in the DVD’s caption decoder automatically cancels out an attempt to turn on the television’s caption decoder. But that’s yet another entirely separate rant, and would presumably require it’s own separate solution.

When we were fussing around with the caption decoder in New Hampshire–this being, remember, the second time in a week that we’ve had to do this–I started thinking, “Surely there MUST be an easier way to do this.” This isn’t the first time I’ve had my share of trouble with turning on caption decoders in television sets other than my own.

I’ve also had to do it in the occasional hotel room–only to find in some cases that they’ve set up this internal cable system that actually STRIPS captions from all programming. But that would be yet another entirely separate rant with yet another entirely separate solution, so … moving on …

Once, my partner was in the hospital for nearly a week (for surgery; she’s completely fine now, this was two years ago). We tried and tried to turn on the caption decoder using the universal remote they gave us and simply COULD NOT DO IT. As far as we could tell, it just couldn’t be done from that universal remote. Perhaps the brand-name remote would have worked better. But we never got the chance to try. The hospital people looked for, but could not find, the dedicated remote control for their specific brand of television set. My partner is hearing; the captions would have been mostly for me so she and I could watch television together, so it wasn’t as important as if it had been the other way around. So we gave up trying. (Near the end of the week, the one dedicated remote control for that brand of television turned out to be in another patient’s room. But, alas, too late for us by then.)

The More Pragmatic Part of this Blog Post

The above part of this post is just me ranting. If ranting tires you, then you’ve skipped past it and came straight here. (Or if you actually read it, then either you have a lot of time on your hands, or you relate very strongly to everything I said above, or you just like a really good rant even if they come from someone who isn’t you.)

Here’s the pragmatic part:

I think what we need is some way to STANDARDIZE how closed captions are turned on or off in ALL television sets from ALL remote control devices, including so-called “universal” remote controls. I mean, regardless of brand. Whether you’re working with a Sony TV, or an RCA, or a Zenith TV or something else. I think simply standardizing how you locate the controls for the caption decoder in the TV menu (or in whatever) would help a lot for people who frequently need to encounter unfamiliar television sets, including some that might be made by small, very obscure electronic companies with their own strange system for organizing their features. It would also help if it was always under more intuitive labels — like, say, “Closed Caption Decoder” — not labels like “Screen” or “Video” or things that only make sense to the people who invented the menu’s organization system.

Even better: Dare we push electronics companies to put a simple, straight forward button on EVERY REMOTE CONTROL DEVICE that directly controls the caption decoder? Plus, ALSO, some standardized way to access the caption decoder from the television set in case the remote (or the correct remote) cannot be found?

Whatever approach we adopt would need to be friendly for even technophobes to use. I’m talking about some universal, standardized button or command that is SO EASY that even people who have never programmed a VCR can go up to any unfamiliar television set and figure out how to turn the caption decoder on and off in five seconds flat. Yes, even if they are the kind of person who never knows what time it is because ALL the clocks in his or her home have been blinking 12:00 … 12:00 … 12:00 … 12:00 … since the last time the power went out six months ago.

After all, they’ve made the “power” button about that simple and universal and standard. For a deaf (Deaf, or hard of hearing) person, the caption decoder is pretty much as important as the power button. After all, if we can’t turn the caption decoder on (and if we weren’t planning to watch a DVD movie that comes with its own subtitles), then what point is there in knowing how to use the power button?

What are the technical issues that this kind of standardization would involve? Do you see any of the above suggestions as workable? Or do you have alternate approaches in mind for how to make it easier for even technophobes to control the caption decoder in any unfamiliar television set? Is there any hope for persuading electronics companies to actually COOPERATE in this regard of their own free will? Or would we need some kind of federal legislation to make it happen? Is this the sort of thing the US NAD would be willing/prepared to take up, or are they focusing on other priorities right now? Does anyone reading this know?

Any thoughts, pragmatic knowledge, or ideas you have would be welcome.

A friendly reminder before all you readers take over the discussion thread below: I’d prefer for the discussion to focus on BROAD, UNIVERSAL solutions to a frustration that I imagine a lot of traveling Deaf/deaf/and hard of hearing people face on the road — NOT just me. (Though if you want to just rant too, go ahead — after all, I did quite a lot of that myself, so it wouldn’t be fair to deny you your source of venting too! But ideally try to close off your rant with the broader picture in mind.)

[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. Or, it can be related to some form of diversity within the Deaf/deaf/HOH community generally (example: racial and ethnic diversity, national origin, Deaf-Blind community, etc, see some of my other blog posts here for ideas.) If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at)]


Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

3 Responses to “Seeking A Universal Caption “On” Switch”

RSS Feed for ReunifyGally Comments RSS Feed

Consumer reports, like yours above, are important. You are not alone. The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (, which includes the NAD, is advocating for accessible user interfaces. For example, people who are blind need access to on-screen menus and easy access to available video description services. Our user interface efforts include ensuring accessible, obvious, and easy ways to activate closed captions on video programming devices, such as TV equipment, recording and playback devices. Closed captions are as important to people who are deaf or hard of hearing as volume control is to people who are hearing. So, when volume control buttons are on the device or the remote control, there should be a closed caption activation button on the device or the remote control. Further, access features (activation and options) should be on the top tier of any menu, not buried or hard for users to find. Legislation becomes necessary when industry does not take appropriate action. COAT needs consumer reports, like yours, to inform, educate, and advocate for change. To file a consumer report with COAT, go to and click on “Contact COAT.”

At the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) we are hearing more and more about this problem. Especially as the transition to digital television occurs and there are newer and fancier TV sets and systems available with all kinds of features, I think this problem may be getting bigger. I encourage anyone with such concerns to contact the CEOs of the companies that manufacture these TV systems. We really do need to see some leadership from the industry on this!!

[…] ReunifyGally Healing and reunifying Gallaudet after the protests « Seeking A Universal Caption “On” Switch […]

Where's The Comment Form?

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: