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Caption Features for Indicating Non-Speech Information: Research toward Standardization


This project received funding from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (Award #H026R20004-92) and Gallaudet University.

Project Description

This project studied the variations in captioning conventions for representing non-speech information (including sound effects, location of speaker off screen, distortions of speech, speech in a foreign language, music, etc.). The study resulted in recommended guidelines to the captioning industry.

An advisory committee consisting of captioning experts and consumer experts met at the project's outset. This group gave written input into the priority areas within the realm of non-speech information (NSI). In addition, 33 caption writers from 26 companies were interviewed by telephone, to ascertain the principal problem areas for indicating non-speech information and questions the writers would like to see answered through the consumer research. A report on the caption writers' opinions was distributed to the advisory committee.

Working in deaf and hearing teams, staff coded 37 hours of television and motion picture video. Caption features used for NSI were catalogued. More than 1,400 examples of non-speech information portrayed in captions were identified. Data were used as a basis for selection of features and types of NSI to be evaluated.

Instruments and questionnaires were developed for assessing consumer opinions. At the advice of the advisory committee, a test of awareness of caption features in common use was designed. The main portion of the procedure entailed identifying video clips from televised material, such that the targeted types of NSI (e.g., speaker identification, audience reaction, sound effects) could be shown and various features tested. In addition to traditional caption features, new features to be added as a result of the FCC's ruling on decoder displays were also included. These included color, improved placement, and paint-on style. In all, 19 video clips were identified, captions written and encoded on to tape, and editing performed to permit counterbalancing of the choices. Answer forms were also designed, and all materials were pilot tested with consumers before beginning data collection.

A total of 189 deaf and hard of hearing consumers from seven states participated in the study. A report detailing the study's results is available from the Gallaudet Research Institute for $6, plus shipping and handling.

Project Duration

December 1992 through August 1994

Gallaudet Investigators

  • Judith E. Harkins
  • Beth R. Singer
  • Ellie Korres
  • Barbara M. Virvan
  • Yoon K. Lee

(Date of this report: 2/96)

This page last updated:January 2006

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