Accessibility and Audiovisual Media FAQ


Captions display spoken dialogue and indicate other sounds on visual displays, such as television monitors, computer screens and projected video. Captions are designed for people who are deaf or have hearing loss and enable full participation when viewing video or multimedia productions that have audio. Captions identify speakers on and off camera. Sound effects are typically indicated by text, such as "phone ringing" or "footsteps," and the use symbols to indicate sounds, such as music. Captions also hold secondary benefits for people who speak a foreign language, learning how to read, or watching a program in a noisy area, as well as those who understand best by processing visual information.

What is the difference between open and closed captions?

Open captions are displayed automatically and do not have to be selected by the user. They are technically a part of the program and "burned-in." They can never be turned off or hidden.

Closed captions can be turned on and off and are not a permanent part of the program.

What is the difference between captions and subtitles?

Subtitles are used to translate dialogue into a different language. They are primarily intended for hearing audiences and do not indicate audio information important to understanding the program.

Subtitles rarely identify speakers or nonverbal sounds such as music and sound effects.

There are technical production differences between captions and subtitles. If subtitles are intended to be used by viewers who are deaf or have hearing loss, they should incorporate captioning principles.

What is a caption board?

A caption board is an LED screen that displays the captions. It is a separate piece of equipment placed underneath, above, or beside the projection screen or video monitor. Caption boards come in a variety of sizes. The correct size is determined by the size of the room, the size of the screen and the distance between audience and screen. Some caption boards have built-in decoders, while others require a separate decoder.

Many older theater installations utilize caption boards. However, the January 31, 2008 DOI Directive requires new programs to display captions. This directive guarantees that the program is in compliance at all times and reduces the cost of the initial equipment, future equipment replacement and troubleshooting.

Why do I have to display captions at all times?

Captions help us reach an even wider audience—from visitors with moderate hearing loss to visitors who cannot hear at all. Visitors requiring this assistance will not have to ask and park personnel will not have to be trained to turn captions on and off upon request.

Audio Description

What is audio description?

Audio description is typically used by visitors who are blind or have low vision, though people with some learning disabilities also benefit from audio description. Audio Description describes the visual content necessary to understand the program. For videos, this description is a separate audio track synchronized with the program's primary audio track. An audio description narrator describes actions, gestures, scene changes, and other visual information. The narrator also describes titles, speaker names, and other text that may appear on the screen. Audio description should be carefully scripted and is best produced by trained professionals.

Does everyone have to hear the audio description if it is selected?

No. The audio description is recorded on a separate audio track and is not heard over the main loudspeaker(s). Visitors requesting audio description will typically receive a headset and receiver. The audio description track is then transmitted to the headset via a radio frequency or infrared signal. Only those with headsets will hear the audio description track.

Assistive Listening

What is assistive listening?

Assistive listening utilizes various devices to deliver the sound directly from its source to the listener, cutting through ambient noise from sources such as heating and cooling systems and people talking. Assistive listening devices also allow the user to amplify the volume to suit their needs. These devices typically include headsets, earbuds and induction loops. The amplified sound is transmitted via radio frequency, infrared, or induction loops to the user's headset, earbuds or t-coil compatible hearing aid.

If I have captions, why do I need assistive listening devices?

Many people simply need additional assistance in order to hear. Some individuals may not be able to read, or may not be able to read at the level necessary to fully comprehend captions, such as young children. By law the Architectural Barriers Act requires assistive listening in assembly areas where amplified sound is present. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended, we also want to ensure effective communication to our visitors with hearing loss.

General Questions

How much will it cost to add captions, audio description, and assistive listening to my existing programs?

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter price for production, equipment, and installation of these accessibility requirements, particularly for existing programs. Factors to consider include the length of the program, the presentation format, and the type of AV equipment currently installed. Specialists at Harpers Ferry Center can work with you to tailor and estimate for your needs.

What kind of equipment maintenance do I need to consider?

All equipment is subject to maintenance. Maintenance for accessibility equipment includes the replacement of foam headset or earbud covers after each use and cleaning of plastic headsets or earbuds. Batteries for audio description/assistive listening receivers will also need to be recharged or replaced periodically.

If I currently have a show in production, should I assume that it will be captioned and audio described?

No! Whether your show is being produced by Harpers Ferry Center or an independent contractor, verify that your program will be captioned and audio described and that assistive listening devices are available to visitors.

My video program is old and outdated. Do I have to caption and audio describe it or can I let it go until I get a new program?

If you continue show your existing program, you still need to make this program accessible, regardless of its age.

Who can I contact for further information or assistance?

For further assistance from Harpers Ferry Center, please call 304-535-6083 or email us.

Last updated: December 18, 2019