In 1990, when the Television Decoder Circuitry Act was working its way through Congress, Jamie wrote and submitted her own statement to Capitol Hill. Jamie did not testify on the Hill; she submitted her statement in response to a call for public comments. Here is what Jamie wrote. As you read the words of the young Jamie (subheadings have been added), bear in mind that if the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 does not pass, in the future a young deaf person could be writing similar words, except that instead of talking about regular television, they could be talking about exclusive Internet television programming.
From the Archives of the First Caption Action: Jamie's Words in 1990
I am writing to testify about what closed captioning has meant to me. At 25, I am old enough to remember the frustration of trying to watch television without closed captions, and young enough that I have hope for the future of closed captioning.
Early Television Years
My early television years are a smorgasbord of memories of television programs that I enjoyed, but did not understand fully because they were not captioned. Like other tots my age, I watched Popeye, the Little Rascals, the Archies, and Casper the Friendly Ghost without understanding what was going on. I relied solely on the visual humor, using my detective skills to figure out as much as I could of a story. I never knew, and may never know, what Popeye said to Bluto, what Spanky told Alfalfa, the insults exchanged between Archie and Reggie, and the words to the Casper theme song. What were those kids on Sesame Street singing?
Later when I got older, I watched Batman without knowing what Adam West said to Burt Ward. Little House on the Prairie began, and although I loved Laura Ingalls I could not lipread Melissa Gilbert. Nor could I lipread Gary Coleman on Diff'rent Strokes.
Watching television in the days before closed captioning meant only two things. One, it meant struggling to lipread actors in live action programs and pounding my parents and sister with questions. Sometimes they would get so fed up with my constant questioning - what did they say? why are they laughing? what happened? what happened next? what the heck is going on??? - that they would yell at me to shut up or leave the room, and let them enjoy the show.
Two, it meant very often not watching the network shows at all. I had to be content with open-captioned versions of PBS programs like Once Upon a Classic adn Zoom. Those were good programs, but I wanted to watch Happy Days and the Fonz! While the Fonz was all the rage, I had to be satisfied with the PBS offerings and do my homework in the next room while my family enjoyed the best TV had to offer in the 1970s.
What about news? I loved newspapers from the time I could read. Naturally, I wanted to watch the TV news too. Around age eight or nine, I discovered that if I wanted to see the ABC World News Tonight, I would have to either get up at six o clock in the morning to see it in its open captioned version on PBS or stay up until after eleven pm - not a good hour for a nine year old.
When in 1979 CBS aired "And Your Name is Jonah," starring Jeffrey Bravin, I was FURIOUS that it was not open-captioned. How dare they, I cried, how dare they show a movie about a deaf kid and not caption it? My classmates in the 9th grade said, "Oh, Jamie, we saw And Your Name is Jonah," and I snarled, "I couldn't understand it! It wasn't captioned!" Years later I finally got to see it on a tape in the Gallaudet University library.
Coming of Closed Captioning
When at fourteen I heard that closed captioning was coming, I decided to buy a decoder. My mom couldn't afford to buy me the decoder, which cost $300 then. So I saved all my baby sitting money and stopped buying clothes for six months. For six months the only new clothes I had were hand me ups from my sister (I am small so I could wear her old clothes) and gifts from relatives. I saved and saved the money and we ordered a decoder from Sears.
Finally, in Spring 1980, the decoder arrived at Sears. We went down there and I paid for my first decoder. My mom was so happy that she cried. To this day I don't know if she was crying because she was so happy that I finally had access to closed captioning, or because it meant the end of all my questions, questions while she was trying to watch a program. Frankly, I strongly suspect the latter.
Closed captioning began slowly, with just the news and a few programs. By then, Fonzie had grown up and was dating a woman with a little girl. Arnold Jackson was already in junior high. Archie and Casper were no longer on TV. Laura Ingalls was married. I had already missed all the early shows.
At first, CBS would not participate in closed captioning. CBS insisted that a teletext system would be better. The deaf community staged marches and protests in New York and elsewhere, calling on CBS to closed caption their programming. Finally, CBS caved in and began closed captioning in the early 1980s.
Since then, closed captioning on television has grown markedly. All prime time programming is now closed captioned, something I am very grateful for because I now have the same choices other people have.
Still Not Enough Captioned
However, there is still a lot of programming that is not closed captioned. Many classic, syndicated programs are still not closed captioned. I am still waiting for the day when I can watch I Love Lucy, something I have been dreaming of for years. Also, many old movies which air late at night are not closed captioned. Nor are some PBS programs, like the MacNeil Lehrer Newshour.
Cable TV has some captioned shows, but there should be some improvement. ...trying to decide whether to drop the Disney channel because the only captioning they do is very limited. It seems like Disney and several other cable channesl only do 'token' captioning, captioning a small amount of their product. I still can't watch anything on Cable News Network.
For ten years now, I have been longing for the day when everything on television would be closed captioned. I know that is an unrealistic dream, but having the most of what is on television closed captioned is a realistic objective. Despite all the progress made in recent years, closed captioning's growth is threatened by the simple fact that not enough of a market exists.
Since 1980, only 275,000 to 300,000 decoders have been sold or given away by the National Captioning Institute (NCI). NCI, a nonprofit organization, has done the best it can to publicize closed captioning with the funds available.
Too many people, both hearing and hearing impaired, do not know where they can buy decoders or do not even know about closed captioning. Last semester, a classmate asked me where his aging father could buy a Telecaption decoder because he is losing his hearing. Others can't afford it even though the cost has dropped. I need a new decoder to replace my first decoder which is on the living room television (I also have a second decoder for our second television), but it costs $180 for a new machine. Still others don't want to buy a decoder because they are hard of hearing and do not want to be identified as 'deaf' by having a conspicuous box on top of their television.
Until the technology for closed captioning is incorporated into televisions that people can buy at any store, I fear that the closed captioning's future will not be as bright as it could be. Unless the market is expanded markedly, potential supporters of closed captioning will look at the numbers - only 300,000 with a total potential market of 28 million deaf and hard of hearing people according to the Deafness Research Foundation of New York - and conclude that it is not a worthwhile investment to fund closed captioning of the programs they advertise on. Budget-conscious television and film producers may well come to the same conclusion.
Indeed, many video companies have already come to that conclusion. Since closed captioning is the last hope deaf people have of seeing and understanding movies shown in theaters, a national grass roots group has been formed to petition the video companies. That grass roots group, which I am one of the leaders of, is called Caption Action. To date, Caption Action has 25,000 signatures and has succeeded in persuading SONY Video Services to closed caption ALL of their video product.
However, there are still many small video companies that caption very little or do not caption anything at all. Cost is frequently cited as a factor. Until the number of caption-capable homes is multiplied tenfold, the video companies find it difficult to justify spending thousands to capation a video in the hopes of reaching a very small percentage of the population.
For years now I have dreamed of having a television with built-in decoder technology. The time has come for televisions with built-in decoder technology to be available to everyone. As the baby boom generation ages, a good number of them will lose their hearing. Already, at least thirty percent of older Americans are hearing impaired, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. These are people who will resent the idea of having to spend another two hundred dollars to be able to keep watching television. Give them a television with an on/off switch for closed captions, and the problem is solved.
It is too late for my generation, but this bill, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, will guarantee that the next generation of deaf children will not be deprived of the chance to understand the Little Rascals. Who can forget Jackie trying to win Mary Ann's affections in "The First Seven Years?" I am still waiting to find out what it was Jackie said to Mary Ann that got her so mad she socked him in the nose.