Many Americans alive today can't remember a time when your primary source of entertainment wasn't the TV, which supplies a steady stream of shows, movies and news right to your home; though for millions of Americans, that entertainment option has been nothing more than one long pantomime. In 1985 approximately 9% of the American population was hearing impaired, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Today, that group of Americans can enjoy many of the shows that appear during prime time, morning talk shows and presidential debates, all because of closed captioning.

One organization, founded by the government in the year 1979, captions over 90 percent of the programs that are available. Along with shows it has also subtitled thousands of movies. If you do a quick study and watch 6 stations for 18 hours, around 13% of the shows will have closed captions. Children's shows comprise about one third of these closed captions.

This government organization works with network execs, programmers and TV producers to provide closed captioning for their programming. Easier said than done in some cases. For many networks the deaf market is something they have never really considered. It appears until contacted by the organization, catering for the hearing impaired had not been amongst their priorities.

Some of them expressed reluctance at this time to caption their programs because the current estimate for a close captioned audience is close to one million people. This number focuses on the decoder - the device which allows people to see these closed captions, which can be found on about 150,000 television sets. And this number is supposed to rise by 30,000 by the end of this year.

Somewhat like the chicken and the egg scenario - there will be more viewers if the programs are closed captioned, and more programs will be closed captioned if there are more viewers. The standard cost for closed captioning of a one hour show is between $1,500 and $2,200. How difficult the script is and how long it takes to produce the captions are the variables which determine just what the cost will be.

If the material is pre-recorded, the timing of the caption must be perfect as well as how long the words should appear on the screen. Action films for obvious reasons are easier to caption. That means doing the subtitles for A Man For All Seasons will be totally different than for Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

While some of these programs receive their funding entirely from the Department of Education, some corporations, and the public broadcasting service, many others are being subsidized by various foundations or NCI. The costs are usually split, for example we will pay one third, while the network pays a third, and you pay the remaining third. The smaller size of the closed captioning audience has been influenced by two factors: cost of the decoder and lack of public awareness. The device cost around $280 when it first arrived in 1980. The cost of a decoder is now less than $250, usually around $200.

There are grants available from certain foundations and corporations that are aiming to help low income deaf people get decoders for their homes. Various programs were launched in major cities across the country to help bring the cost of the decoder down to around $35, with the hope that future technologies might be able to inspire popular television manufacturers to offer a model with a decoder built right in, similarly to the way that stereo sound is built in to some models.

Most Americans do not think about the hearing impaired, it is a hidden disability. The reason for this is because they are isolated by people in our country, so they tend to withdraw and stay out of the way of society, and that isn't fair. The biggest bonus to closed captioning is it allows a family to enjoy a show together, the hearing impaired enjoying the show or movie just as much as family members who can hear perfectly.

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