TV Access for People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Closed Captioning

Closed captioning makes TV programs accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing by translating audio into text captions displayed on the screen. The captions also identify who is speaking and the emotions they are feeling, and include icons for elements such as music (♪♪).

You can access closed captioning by selecting the “CC” button on most TV remote controls manufactured after July 1993.

Why is closed captioning important?

Television plays an important role in shaping Canadian society. It is a primary source of news, entertainment, and sports programming, and plays a critical role in making Canadians aware of the wide range of ideas and perspectives that make up the rich fabric of our society. As a result, it is important to ensure that all Canadians can benefit from what TV has to offer.

Close captioning enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to benefit from TV. It has the added benefits of being useful for people learning to read or speak a second language, and of enabling people to enjoy TV programming in restaurants, gyms, and other locations where the sound is often turned off.

The CRTC and closed captioning

Recognizing the importance of closed captioning, in 2007 the CRTC directed the broadcasting industry to establish two closed captioning working groups – one for the French-language television market, the other for the English-language market.

The groups included representatives from private and public television broadcasters, distributors, consumer and advocacy groups representing persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and captioning providers.

Their task was to help the CRTC establish captioning quality standards that would become conditions of licence for broadcasters and would ensure consistent and reliable closed captioning quality throughout the Canadian broadcasting system.

Based on the groups’ work, the CRTC developed policies to establish:

  • The quality, and to a lesser extent the quantity, of closed captioning that must be maintained
  • Procedures for monitoring and reporting on captioning quality
  • A way for consumers to register complaints related to closed captioning

More recently, as a result of its Let’s Talk TV initiative, the CRTC also expressed the expectation that closed captioning will extend beyond traditional broadcasting platforms to include online broadcasting.

Quantity of closed captioning

When it comes to closed captioning quantity, the CRTC requires most broadcasters to:

  • Caption 100% of their programs over the broadcast day (from 6 AM to midnight)
  • Ensure that 100% of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned (A condition of licence to be in effect by the 4th year of the current licence, which for many broadcasters was by September 2014)
  • Provide viewers with closed captioning for all programming aired overnight (from midnight to 6 AM) if captions are available

Quality of closed captioning

CRTC standards also regulate the accuracy of closed captioning, which is the level of exactness between captions and the audio content of a program. For pre-recorded programming, accuracy includes correct spelling.

For pre-recorded programs, broadcasters must target a captioning accuracy rate of 100%. For live programming, French-language captioning must target an accuracy rate of 85%, and English-language captioning 95%, with the difference related to differences in the closed-captioning techniques used in each market.

CRTC policies also address:

  • Minimizing caption lag time for pre-recorded and live programming
  • Correcting errors before re-broadcasting a program
  • Providing adequate on-screen information
  • Controlling various aspects of formatting, including the use of hyphens and, for French-language programming, chevrons
  • Ensuring the captioning of emergency alerts

Monitoring closed captioning

As part of the condition for their licences, the CRTC requires broadcasters to put in place a monitoring system to ensure that closed captioning is included in the broadcast signal and that captioning reaches the viewer in its original form.

The CRTC also requires broadcasters to monitor and report on closed captioning as follows:

  • At time of licence renewal, broadcasters must describe mechanisms and procedures they have developed to ensure the quality of closed captioning, including procedures to ensure that closed captioning is present throughout entire programs
  • Every month, broadcasters must calculate the captioning accuracy rate for two programs containing live content
  • Every two years, broadcasters must provide the CRTC with a report describing efforts to improve accuracy rates

Extending closed captioning to the online world

As a result of its Let’s Talk TV initiative, in 2015 the CRTC expressed the expectation that closed captioning will be extended beyond traditional broadcasting platforms to include online broadcasting.

To ensure that all Canadians are able to receive content in as complete a form as possible, even if that content is accessed online, the CRTC:

  • Expects that broadcasters will provide closed captioning of content made available online if that content had closed captioning in the traditional system
  • Requires broadcasters to report annually on the availability of closed captioning for their online content

Registering a complaint about closed captioning

To help ensure that broadcasters comply with its closed captioning standards, the CRTC accepts complaints about problems with closed captioning, and it can take action based on those complaints.

If the CRTC believes there is a compliance issue, it can request that a broadcaster submit its monthly accuracy rate calculations. If it appears there is repeated non-compliance with the closed captioning standards, the CRTC may impose additional monitoring requirements on a broadcaster.

All broadcasting complaints, including ones relating to closed-captioning, must be made in writing. For more information, see How to make a broadcasting complaint.

Related information

For more information about closed captioning and the CRTC, see: