Sign Language vs Closed-Captioning for the Deaf Community

Photo of two women using sign language

Closed captioning offers essential television access not only for the deaf community but also benefits the elderly, hard-of-hearing individuals, early readers, and those learning English as a second language. For example, Aberdeen provides closed captioning for numerous Sunday church services weekly.

While large television ministries greatly benefit from closed captioning, smaller congregations might wonder if they should opt for this technology or stick with a sign language interpreter. While employing an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is an excellent way to connect with deaf attendees, ASL has limited similarities to English and requires extensive learning. This can be a barrier as many hard-of-hearing individuals or those who become deaf later in life may not have learned ASL. In fact, only about 10% of the 24 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans are proficient in sign language, leaving the vast majority to depend on captioning.

Additionally, there is no universal sign language. ASL, for instance, is vastly different from British Sign Language (BSL) even though both are used in English-speaking countries. Some deaf individuals use Signed Exact English (SEE), which mirrors English grammar and vocabulary more closely, or cued speech, which uses hand shapes to help distinguish similar sounds and assist lip-reading.

Moreover, relying solely on an ASL interpreter can be challenging; viewers must continuously watch the interpreter to follow the conversation, which can be taxing and lead to missed information if attention wavers. In contrast, closed captions allow viewers to read at their own pace and easily re-engage if they become momentarily distracted, facilitating better comprehension and enabling them to observe both the speaker and the text.

Overall, closed captioning not only enhances accessibility for those who prefer ASL, SEE, speech reading, or cued speech but also broadens the reach of your message, making it more inclusive for diverse audiences.