Closed Captioning and BSL Interpretation: A Guide to Audio Accessibility


For many viewers of television services, subtitles can be thought of as geared towards deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Alongside subtitling services, we’ve all switched on the TV at some point to see a BSL interpreter displayed in the righthand corner of our screens. For deaf viewers, most have a distinct preference towards either captions or interpretation, but for hearing audiences, it can be hard to understand the difference in order toappreciate why that BSL or Basic ASL sign language lady is so important…

This blog is here to cover the impactful differences between sign language interpretation and video subtitling for the deaf community.

Tone Of Voice

In today’s world, text messaging and social media interactions are used almost as much as vocal communication. Whilst text can be a practical way of conveying information quickly and efficiently, text can’t convey tone of voice. Both ASL and BSL rely heavily on lip reading and facial expression, which is far better for conveying emotion and changes in ‘tone of voice’.


BSL is a language in its own right. It has its own structure and grammatical rules, many of which differ greatly from spoken or written English. For deaf viewers who heavily rely on sign language in their daily lives, the structure of subtitles (though accurately reflecting spoken language) may not reflect the linguistic elements of their own language. This can make speech elements in a film seem less natural, detracting from the viewer’s enjoyment of a film.


Whilst closed captioning should be exact, all too often captions and subtitles are littered with clumsy errors and poorly considered lazy or elaborate audio descriptions. While subtitles can be created using voice recognition or automatic timings where mistakes can be overlooked, a professional sign language interpreter is unlikely to make such critical mistakes and though the exact representation of the spoken word may not be exact, conveyance of the overall meaning will be far more accurate.

Natural Flow

Perhaps the most obvious reason that deaf viewers who are fluent in sign language may prefer BSL interpretation over subtitles is that it’s simply their preferred way of communicating. Similar to how hearing viewers find reading subtitles an unnecessary effort when compared to the communication methods they use every day, deaf and hard of hearing viewers can feel just the same way. It’s all too easy for us to forget that just like hearing viewers,people in the deaf community spend their daily lives reading non-stop subtitles, and a friendly human face is always superior in terms of making a meaningful connection with video audiences.

Whatever your preference, whether closed captioning or sign language interpretation, video accessibility should be a top priority for all video makers wishing to both comply with regulations and reach the largest possible audiences.

This guest blog was written by Jodene Antoniou, Director of Capital Captions – a closed captioning company working to improve video accessibility across the globe.



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