Most television viewers notice them only when they accidentally hit theClosed Captionbutton on the remote.
But for those viewers who dont have the full range of their hearing, those white letters in a black box are invaluable. They give a running account of dialogue and narrative, so the viewers can hear with their eyes to fully understand whats happening on the screen.
That information becomes even more critical if youre a college student watching a video for a gradewhich is why West Virginia University now offers its own in-house captioning service for students who are hearing-impaired.
Its our job to make learning accessible for all students on campus,said Rebecca Berger, a rehabilitation counselor in WVU s Office of Disability Services who is overseeing the service. A special software program that runs in an off-the-shelf personal computer makes the captioning possible, she said.
WVU has been providing the service for the past several months.
University work-study students screen the video, transcribe the dialogue and type in other visual clues when necessary to make the story-telling process complete.
The whole job can be tedious and time-consuming, Berger said. It takes an average of 26 hourstwo weeks of workto caption one hour of video.
Its also expensive. Most captioning companies charge from $800-$1,000 an hour for the work, but WVU s rate is half that, Berger said.
We can do it for $450 an hour,Berger said,and were right here on campus. When you send something away, theres no guarantee the work will be properly done. Theres no guarantee the tape wont be damaged in shipment.
To date, WVU has captioned 16 videos ranging from chemistry lab safety tutorials to last years Mountaineer football highlight reel. WVU currently has three hearing-impaired students enrolled, with four more expected on campus for the start of next falls semester, in August 2005.
Professors needing videos captioned can make their request directly to Berger, she said. WVU will also do captioning services for schools across the state and region.
We just ask that you give us two weeks in advance,she said.That goes back to the time we need to do the work.
Newer videos are already encoded with captioning, Berger said, and in 1994, the Federal Communications Commission required that all television sets rolling off the assembly line be equipped with decoder circuitry that makes it possible to view the captions.
Berger says she heartened by the fact that WVU can offer one more venue of learning. She languished as an undergraduate because of a then-undiagnosed learning disability that held her back for several years.
I know what its like to feel isolated,said Berger, who now holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from WVU .And I also know what it feels like to have a breakthrough, to know that I can learn too. Thats what our captioning service can do.
That feeling is seconded by Jennifer McIntosh, WVU s executive officer for social justice, which oversees Bergers department.
When we say were a �€~student-centereduniversity, we mean all students,McIntosh said.Our captioning service gives every student a doorway. Its like a portal. Those words on the screen are words of learning. Those words are all part of the promise and privilege of learning.
For more information about WVU s Closed Captioning services, visit online athttp://www.wvu.edu/~socjust/disability/alternativeformats.htm.