Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“I Can’t Do This!” Advocating for Closed Captions

            It was right before February break. Vacation was so close!
At this point in the year, routines are in place. Relationships with teachers and other school professionals are established. Consultations focus on modifying or fine-tuning instruction in anticipation of upcoming lessons. We’ve covered the basics… or have we?
I walked into my junior high consult on the Thursday before February vacation. The history teacher sat with a paper face down on his desk. Somehow, I knew it was for me. He handed me the paper. It was a series of questions related to the current unit and across the top, my student had scrawled, “I can’t do this.” Scanning the sheet, I was surprised. The questions were ones I thought my student was fully prepared to answer. And then the teacher casually mentioned that the questions were related to a video that had been shown in class. Naturally, I asked about closed captions. You guessed it! The CC hadn’t worked for whatever reason and because my student generally does well, the teacher assumed she’d be fine and could just listen and take notes along with the rest of the class. He was baffled as to why she hadn’t even attempted these questions. I realized it was time to revisit closed captions…
            Closed captions are absolutely necessary in order for students with hearing loss to access audio/visual media used in class for instructional purposes—or just pure entertainment! As teachers of the deaf / hard of hearing, we know that even with the use of assistive technology, students do not have perfect access to sound. In order to ensure comprehension, captions are essential 100% of the time.

One of my junior high teachers pauses a video about Mt. Everest
with the CC on to model note-taking

But I don’t know how to turn on the closed captions… Some of my schools are still using DVDs (and even VHS tapes in one financially burdened district). While all DVDs should have closed caption options, each system (computer, television, DVD player) may have a different way to set up the CC. I’ve found it helpful to print out instructions and tape them to the back or side of the DVD player or television. This way, even if there’s a substitute teacher, there’s no excuse for not using CC. For online resources, commonly used sites such as Brain Pop and Discovery Streaming, and CNN Student News have CC available. YouTube captions are notoriously inaccurate with some exceptions. If teachers are planning to use a YouTube video, I highly recommend that they preview the video first to make sure the closed captions are appropriate and accurate. Teaching other students in class how to set up CC for various media also helps, especially in cases where the teacher may be out.

The captions bother the other students so I don’t like to use them… A teacher actually said this to me once! When teachers use CC in a meaningful way, all students benefit. The names of people and places are on the screen. Dates are right there in print and key details can be read for students who are not auditory learners. I’ve watched many teachers begin to really own the CC, pausing the video at key points so that students can copy important details into their notes. Framing closed captioning as a tool that benefits everyone rather than as an accommodation for one student allows the whole group to embrace CC.

I connected the transmitter with the splitter like you showed me so she doesn’t need CC… While a DAI connection to a media source allows students to listen to media through their HAT system, it does not replace CC. This connection cannot improve clarity.

It’s in Spanish. They’re supposed to listen and repeat for practice… Especially with foreign language, CC are necessary. Turning on the Spanish CC on a Spanish video for example allows students with hearing loss to follow along. A second language is even harder to comprehend than a first language so CC are even more essential.

Well, the homework is to listen to this podcast. It doesn't come with CC…  In this situation, the teacher approached me to ask how to accommodate my student. Originally, he offered to type out a script for my student.  While this would be fine for one or two podcasts, he had many that he planned to use throughout the year. He mentioned that he also had several TED talks that were similar and did have CC. A solution was found! Now, when a podcast is assigned, there’s an option to watch the related TED talk instead. As this teacher astutely pointed out, if my student needed a visual, there were likely other students who would do better with that format as well. Offering alternatives allows all students to engage without singling out the student with hearing loss.

I put the CC on so why didn’t he answer the comprehension questions? While reading the CC, students with hearing loss are not able to take notes simultaneously. If they look down to write a response, they will miss the next portion of the video. Alternatives include pausing the video and giving all students an opportunity to write, allowing the student with hearing loss to copy responses from a designated note taker, or, my first choice, allowing the student to receive a copy of teacher provided answers prior to watching the video. While sometimes perceived as cheating, previewing information allows the student with hearing loss to better follow along while watching the video as they know the important information to tune into.

It’s Friday before vacation. This video’s just for fun so we didn't bother with the CC… Even if it’s not educational, CC are still necessary. Students with hearing loss deserve equal access to all aspects of their education—even the fun parts! Not using CC means that the student may not be able to engage in the social conversations later and could feel left out or confused. If it’s happening in school, CC are mandatory.

I’m. Not. Using. Captions. One year I had a high school teacher who was incredibly difficult to work with and for reasons I still don’t understand, adamantly refused to use CC. I enlisted the help of my liaison at the school, and together we advocated all the way up to the special education director. In the end, my student was moved to a different history class where the teacher was more accommodating. This may not always be an option but my students’ needs come first.

And most importantly, remember that training students to advocate for closed captions is highly effective. Teachers often hear students in a different way than they hear us when it comes to what’s needed in the classroom. Practicing for situations involving captions (through role play and conversational scripting), and then supporting their requests allows students to feel confident—even when we’re not there.

How do you advocate for the use of closed captions?