Closed Captioning as Universal Design

  • 3 Min Read

In her recent book, Sound is Not Enough: Captioning as Universal Design, Svetlana Kouznetsova tells us about the challenges she faced accessing content in her classes as a high school student.

Svetlana is deaf. She began losing her hearing in both ears when she was sick with meningitis at age two. To get through her most difficult high school courses, she would record the classes on audiotape and have her mother transcribe every word using paper and pen.

It wasn’t perfect, but it gave her access to the spoken content of her courses. Access that most of her classmates, and even her teachers, probably took for granted.

Today, Svetlana is a learning success story. She graduated with highest honors from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), went on to earn a master’s degree, and holds several advanced certifications. She’s currently an independent user experience and accessibility consultant in New York City. She also writes and speaks at events and conferences.

Her book is full of information for anyone who’d like to understand what it’s like for the deaf and hard of hearing to navigate today’s education system. The remarkable thing is just how applicable it is to any educator.

Closed captioned video is essential for those applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to their courses. CAST defines UDL as “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.”

Why is captioning so important and how does it help people learn? As CAST explains in their online guide, Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, “Students differ naturally in the ways that they process information. High-quality learning environments include multiple representations of concepts that are flexible both in terms of their style and examples.”

Captioning provides an additional representation of information. It allows students to engage in a way that may be more effective for their learning style. Svetlana points out that access to captions can contribute to higher literacy levels, benefiting both hearing students and those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Captioning all videos also supports another UDL principle: avoiding the design of a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum based on the “mythical average learner.”

“Often, attempts to address learner variability take a remediation approach that emphasizes how individuals who least resemble the ‘mythical average learner’ can overcome the ways in which they are different,” CAST’s UDL in Higher Education guide explains. Instead, the ways that all students can succeed with accessible material should be explored.

Learners who need captions shouldn’t have to ask for them and be subjected to the stigmas associated with disabilities. We should build courses with the learner in mind and include features like closed captioned video as part of that design.

Learn more from our recorded webinar—Equal Access to Education: How Universal Design for Learning can Improve Learning Outcomes

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