Subtitles should be promoted to all users

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

ICT Assistive technology is a term used to describe a technology developed to help people with a disability access ICT. The problem with assistive technologies is that they are often expensive to develop and have a limited audience so they can be expensive for the end user and this further limits the number of users. The best way to bring down the cost is to extend their use to a wider community, preferably by making it relevant to most ICT users.

I was reminded of this when I was watching a new version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar on television recently. I enjoy watching Shakespeare but I, like many other people, can often only follow 80-90% of the dialogue and this limits my full appreciation of the stories. The version I was watching was set in a modern African country and all the actors were coloured. The actors were superb and annunciated beautifully but I suspect the unusual setting did not help my understanding.

After ten minutes of struggling to follow the story I suddenly remembered that nearly all digital television channels include subtitles for the benefit of people with hearing impairments. After a little playing with my remote I managed to switch the subtitles on. My enjoyment of the rest of the play increased dramatically as I was able to follow all the subtleties of the plot.

I would encourage anyone to switch on subtitles when watching a program they are having difficulty understanding either because it in an archaic language, such as Julius Caesar, or includes dialects (I confess to finding some of the minor characters in Vera hard to follow), or because English is not their first language.

Now that the television companies subtitle most programmes they should promote the benefits to the widest possible audience, not just the hearing impaired, but people where English is not their first language and people like myself who can better understand some dialogue through subtitles.

Promoting subtitles in this way would change the view of subtitles from a significant cost to a significant benefit.

Up to now I have been discussing television but the same argument applies to video delivered through any channel. In particular video clips are now commonplace on corporate web sites and should be subtitled to provide the benefits I have discussed.