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CLOSED CAPTIONING: “AARP, The Closed-Captioning Question,” by Broadcast Captioner Lorilyn Roberts

Last updated on January 13, 2023



Letter to AARP

Will They Encourage Members to Sign the Petition to
“Mandate a Caption Standard for Television Programming?”

Dear Sir,

How many AARP members are hard of hearing? According to the website, up to 43 percent of the population over 65 suffer from hearing loss. Twelve percent of the population is over 65 and that translates into four million Americans. And because AARP considers anyone over 50 to be “old,” adjusted conservatively down to 55 years, these figures would probably double to eight million Americans who have hearing impairments.

Today I received this email from a friend of mine:

“I signed the petition. Alvin and I watch TV with captioning all the time. Even with the volume turned up, sometimes it is difficult to understand the dialog. And some captioning is awful! Thanks, Carol.”

I have been a closed captioner for television for twelve years and I want you to know that the state of television captioning today is frightening — both for me personally as a professional and for the future of those who rely on them for a healthy lifestyle. Few people realize that newer but inferior technology is on the verge of replacing steno captioners.

Most reputable companies are being forced to bid below the current quality of service, which they have been providing for years. They are losing contracts to companies promising the same level of service, but the truth is, they can’t duplicate what a trained captioner can do. By the time television stations realize they made a mistake, those steno captioners will be gone — to CART, court reporting, and other business endeavors where there is job security and they aren’t forced to accept the steep pay cuts.

Most captioners provide captioning because they love what they do and want to help the hearing-impaired, but I can’t and others can’t continue to take the pay cuts to compete with an inferior product. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

The result: A disaster is on the horizon for the aging population. If you think you see poor captions now, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Because I am a captioner, I know what is happening. To do something about this, I have started a petition to the FCC to mandate minimum captioning standards. By establishing a standard, it will halt the downward spiral and protect millions of senior citizens.

AARP is the most prestigious organization representing the elderly population. As a result, I hope AARP will help play a vital role in protecting the rights of seniors to quality captioning. The Americans with Disabilities Act without the minimum standard is no longer sufficient. We live in a very different economic climate today. Unless a minimum captioning standard is added, captioning companies will continue to pursue inferior technologies — why should they opt for quality when it’s not mandated in the Act? Because of the tough economic climate, television stations, unfortunately, are believing the lies that these new technologies are as good. They aren’t!

Please go to this link and read the petition that will be delivered to the FCC. Urge your readership and members to sign it. We need 20,000 signatures to make our voices heard. The petition to “Mandate a Caption Standard for Television Programming” will expire in six months. We must do it today before it’s too late. (Petition is now closed).

Again, let’s ensure that the elderly population and hearing-challenged will have quality captions in the future. Older citizens who have given so much to our country deserve access to the same information as the rest of us. I hope AARP will help them now before it’s too late.

Lorilyn Roberts
Standards Captioning Action Group, also known as SCAG

Published inBroadcast Captioning


Lorilyn Roberts