Hearing Awareness Week: the beginner’s guide to captions

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013 16:48pm

Hearing Awareness Week runs from 25 to 31 August. To celebrate, we have put together a beginner’s guide to captioning to help raise awareness of the availability of captions across all types of media.

What are captions?

Captioning is the text version of speech and other sound that can be provided on television, DVDs, online videos, and at cinemas and theatres. Captions look similar to subtitles on foreign language content but provide additional information such as sound effects and music.

What’s the difference between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ captions?

Simply speaking, closed captions can be turned on and off while open captions are always on. In cinemas, captions are open when they are displayed on the screen and closed when they are shown on a personal device.

Where are captions available?


On the main channels (ABC1, SBS1, Seven, Nine and Ten) captions are required on 90% of all programs and on all news and current affairs programs. This is required to increase to 100% by 2015.

On multichannels such as Go!, Eleven and SBS2 captions are only required on programs which were originally shown on the network’s main channel. For instance, a repeat of Spicks and Specks on ABC2 must be captioned because it was originally shown with captions on ABC1.

Watch our video demonstrating how to turn on captions on a digital TV.

Captions are also required on subscription TV, including Foxtel. Watch our video demonstrating how to turn on captions on subscription TV.

DVDs and Blu-ray

Captions are available on roughly 70% of DVD and Blu-ray titles released in Australia. To see if a DVD or Blu-Ray has captions look for the “CC” symbol on the back of the case, or the words “subtitles for the hearing impaired”. On the EzyDVD website you can search for and purchase captioned DVDs.

Watch our video demonstrating how to turn on captions on a DVD.

For an insight into how captioning works in the DVD industry see our project manager’s article Why aren’t all DVDs captioned?

At the movies

Currently there are 115 cinemas showing movies with closed captions in Australia. Our Access to cinema section has a list of accessible cinemas, information about the devices that show captions and where you can find captioned trailers.

At school

Captions should be turned on whenever a teacher presses play on a video in the classroom. Our CAP THAT! campaign aims to educate teachers about captions and get them into the habit. Deaf and hearing impaired students might not always be comfortable reminding their teachers to turn captions on, so teachers need to bare this in mind.

The CAP THAT! website has a list of where teachers can find captioned education videos.

At the theatre

A number of theatres around the country offer performances with captions, including the Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne theatre companies. Contact a theatre near you to see what captioned performances are offered during their seasons.

Mobile apps such as Go Theatrical! Mobile are making closed captions increasingly available in theatres.


There is a limited amount of captioned video available on catch-up TV and video on demand services in Australia. ABC iView and SBS’s catch-up service both offer captions. The ABC iView app for iPhone and iPad also supports captions. These can be turned on in the iPhone/iPad settings menu.

Currently, Apple iTunes is the only place you can purchase and download captioned videos in Australia. Captions are available on approximately 25% of all iTunes videos. Here’s how to find captioned videos on iTunes.

YouTube also supports closed captions. If these are available a ‘CC’ button will appear on the right of the control bar. YouTube also provides automatic captions which lack accuracy.

I have a video. How do I caption it?

Captioning a video you’ve uploaded to YouTube is easy, whether it’s by correcting auto-captions or by creating a captions file. See our step-by-step guide to captioning a YouTube video.

For other videos and professional media there are a number of captioning companies which provide services.

The Hearing Awareness Week website features a range of resources and tools to help you raise awareness about hearing, Deafness and hearing impairment.

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