When watching films, I have often paid attention to subtitles that show sound effects such as:

Cropped image of film only showing the subtitle that says [Vehicle pulling up]. Behind the subtitle you can see cropped image of wooden table with paper stacks on it.
Cropped image of film subtitle that says [vehicle pulling up]
Cropped image of film only showing two lines of subtitle that says (PEOPLE LAUGHING) and (INDISTINCT CHATTERING). Behind the text, there's blurred image of dumplings on plate.
Cropped image of film subtitle that says (PEOPLE LAUGHING) and (INDISTINCT CHATTERING)
Cropped image of film only showing the subtitle that says [clock ticking]. Behind the text, there's blurred shape of someone's shoulder wearing a suit.
Cropped image of film that says [clock ticking]

BBC Academy has online guidelines for subtitles that would be shown across its platforms. I found this line interesting under the Music and songs section – “All music that is part of the action, or significant to the plot, must be indicated in some way.”

Description of music can prepare us for what is about to happen in a film – examples of this are subtitles such as EERIE INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYS, TENSE MUSIC PLAYS, SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC PLAYS. It can also tell us what the person is feeling – such as HEROIC MUSIC, DRAMATIC MUSIC SWELLS, SENTIMENTAL MUSIC.

I recently watched the well-known 1982 film Blade Runner, during which I noticed that while dramatic music was played, it was shown as (***) – how does (***) convey the atmosphere of the music that is being played? There are cases where the subtitle can be clever with showing context but its importance can be easily neglected.

Regulations for closed captioning started to be introduced in the UK in the 1990s to make video content accessible for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Whilst in the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, following which the majority of network providers of programs had to contribute part of their income on captioning to ensure access to verbal information on televisions and films. In 1993 with the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 going into effect, TV receivers with picture screens that were 13 inches or larger that were imported in the US had to have built-in decoder circuitry to show closed captions. Decoders used to be sold for $250 at Sears in the 1980s which meant they were not very accessible for some people. Closed captioning started out as an experiment intended only for people who were deaf, yet it became something of an everyday commodity that helped millions of people to connect. A brief history of CC can be found here.

When I was younger, I remember renting VHS tapes from Blockbusters with my family. Specifically, I remember trying to select ones that had the CC logo on them to ensure that I can watch them without worrying. Fast-forwarding to 2021, unfortunately, not all 100% of UK TV shows/films and online video services have subtitles. The UK charity The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (previously known as Action on Hearing Loss) currently has a campaign called Subtitle It! which has been tackling the issue since 2015.

There is still a long way to make existing/future web content fully accessible for everyone- but I am glad there are resources that we can learn from regarding accessibility.

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