by Mary Beth Beckman (Caption Editor)
One of the most important tasks of a closed captioner is to remember the people who benefit from our work. Part of my job is to try to place myself in a position I’ve never experienced. As a hearing person, how do I best create captions that will be fully communicative and provide a rich viewing experience for the hearing-impaired?
When captioning, I try to envision the viewer as someone who was born deaf, someone who doesn’t necessarily know what sound occurs when a door opens or a window breaks. How do you aptly communicate sound effects to someone who hasn’t directly experienced sound? To a certain extent, you don’t, because you can’t. But what you can do is try to use precise language. At CaptionMax, we try to avoid bland captions like [door closes] and opt for [door creaks] or [door clicks]. We want to communicate the character of the sound, not what the sound implies. Instead of [glass breaks], we’d go with [glass shatters]. Instead of [police sirens], we’d use [police sirens wailing].
But this isn’t perfect. In the end, how does someone who has never heard before know what it sounds like to creak or click or shatter or wail? Partially, the same way hearing people do: via context. Instead of hearing pitches in relation to one other, the hearing-impaired can learn how sounds fit together on a conceptual continuum. Not having heard something yourself doesn’t mean you can’t access the concept of the sound, how the experience of it is different from the experience of other sounds. As closed captioners, we owe this depth of experience to our audience. By being more precise in our word choice, we can greatly enhance the effect of our captions.