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Captioning Guidelines from
The US Department of Education

Note: Are you tired of seeing words misspelled when you're watching a movie or, worse yet, a bunch of gobblygook on screen that makes absolutely no sense. Well, that never happens with our captioning. The US DOE's Guidelines guarantee it. Why we're not even allowed to break a sentence on a prepositional phrase (whatever that is :-). Please read the following to discover for yourself why our captioning is preferred for Deaf and HOH individuals and by those studying English as a second language (and those seeking to improve literacy).

Overview: Below you will find excerpts from The Captioning Key: Guidelines and Preferred Styles. This is a 33 page book issued by The Captioned Media Program, of the The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in conjunction with the National Initiatives Team, Office of Special Education Program, United States Department of Education (US DOE). We had the distinct honor of working with NAD compiling thses Classics.

The Captioning Key: Guidelines and Preferred Styles.

Captioning is the key... to opening up a world of information for persons with a hearing loss or literacy needs. There are 28 million deaf or hard of hearing individuals in America. Additionally: millions of people are learning to speak English as a second language in ESL classes and homes across the country, and millions more are learning to read and to improve their literacy skills. Being able to hear the words and see them written out at the same time helps.

The Guidelines are a key... for captioning agencies performing Open Captioning. However, much of the information is applicable to closed-captioning. Thus, it will also be useful to video producers/distributors and others who are considering captioning their products or learning about captioning. Some backround information is included.

About the Captioned Media Program

Sound was introduced to motion pictures in 1927. This made them inaccessible to deaf persons who enjoyed equal viewing participation with hearing persons during the silent film era. Efforts to overcome the problem of inaccessibility did not begin for two decades. In 1947 the first true captioning occurred as captions were placed between film frames. The Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD) program was organized and incorporated in Connecticut with an office at the American School of the Deaf. In 1958 the CFD became federal Public Law 85-905.

Although the initial purpose of the CFD was to provide subtitled Hollywood films for deaf people, educators were quick to recognize the potential of captioned films and other visual media as tremendous untapped educational resources for mainstream students. Consequently, the Congress amended the original law to authorize acquistion, captioning, and the distribution of educational films.

In 1984 CFD introduced videocassettes and CFD became CFV - Captioned Films/Videos - and now called the Captioned Media Program. Today 4,000 captioned films/videos are available for free loan. Hearing impaired persons, teachers, parents, and others who work with HI people are eligible to borrow these materials.

sivideo.com sources programs from various producers for the Caption Media Program (CMP) to license, caption and make 250 copies of each. The CMP is required, by Act of Congress, to make them available to registered hearing impaired individuals as a free loaner. The CPM oversees the captioning of the programs which must meticulously follow the Guidelines imposed by the US DOE. Once the movies are captioned, sivideo.com has the responsibility of marketing the movies to Academic & Public Libraries; Consumers; Organizations; Retailers; Broadcasters and others.

The Guidelines have evolved over the 40-year history of the program. Captioning research and technology continually dictate changes and improvments in the process. The Captioned Media Program staff, with a combined near century of captioning experience, rely heavily on consumer input when incorporating these changes.

Captioning Philosophy

The Captioned Media Program captioning philosophy is that all videos should incorporate as much of the original language as possible: words or phrases, which may be unfamiliar to the audience should not be replaced with simple synonyms. Extreme rewritting of narration for captions develops problems of "watered-down" language and deleted concepts. Editing should only be done if required to meet the specified presentation rate.

Closed Captioning: Closed captions are all white uppercase (captial) letters encased in a black box. A decoder or television with a decoder chip is necessary to view them.

Open Captioning: (subtitling). The captions are "burned" onto the videotape and are always visble -- no decoder is needed. A wide variety of fonts is available for open-captioning allowing the use of upper and lowercase letters with descenders. The options for caption placement are great, permitting location anywhere on the screen. Open Captions are usually white letters with a black rim or drop shadow. The Captioned Media Program requires Open Captioning.

Please Note: Below you'll find a few examples of the Captioning Guidelines.

Line Division

When breaking a sentence into a two-line caption, the following guidelines should be followed:

    1. Do not break a modifier from the word it modifies. Example:


Mark pushed his black


Mark pushed
his black truck.

    2. Do not break a prepositional phrase. Example:


Mary scampered under
the table.


Mary scampered
under the table.

    3. Do not break a person's name and do not break titles from a personal name. Example:


Bob and Mr.
Smythe are at the movies.


    Bob and Mr Smythe are
    at the movies.

    4. Do not break a line after a conjunction. Example:


In seconds she arrived and
he ordered a Pepsi.


    In seconds she arrived
    and he ordered a Pepsi.

    5. Do not break an auxiliary verb from the word it modifies.


So I could
have eaten a cookie.


    So I could have
    eaten a cookie.

Open Caption Line Placement

    1. Captions that have two or more lines must be left-aligned. Examples:


a. Holding at thirty yards...
      Fifty yards and closing!

b. I'm sorry Norman,
      I'd never
   Left if I had known.


a. Holding at thirty yards...
    Fifty yards and closing!

b. I'm sorry, Norman
    I'd never left if I had known

    2. The only exception to the above occurs when both lines of captioned dialogue or narration are exactly the same. In this case, indent the second line two spaces. Example:


Where are you?
Where are you?


Where are you?
    Where are you?


    Italics should be used to indicate:

  1. A voice-over reading of a poem, book, play, journal, letter, etc. (as this is also quoted material, quotation marks are also used).
  2. When a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing.
  3. When there is a background audio that is essential to the plot, such as a PA system, TV, and so forth;
  4. The first time a new word is being defined, but not thereafter.
  5. Offscreen dialogue, narrator, sound effects, or music.
  6. Speaker identification if the dialogue is in italics.
  7. Foreign words and phrases unless they are in English dictionaries. Some exceptions apply. For example: "passado" and "punto reverso", but not the "hay". For the sake of being consistant, leave all in italics.


    Ah, the immortal passadoa!
    The punta reverso! They hay!


      Ah, the immortal passado
      The punta reverso! They hay!

  8. When a particular word is emphasized in speech. Example - You must go!

Foreign Language, Dialect & Slang

    1. If possible, caption the actual foreign words. If it is not possible to caption the words, use a description; i.e., (man speaking French). Never translate into English.

    2. If possible, use accent marks, umlaunts, and other indicators.

    3. Keep the flavor of the speaker's language when necessary to portray a character's personality. This includes captioning profanity and slang. Examples:


a. I am not going anywhere.
b. (cursing)
c. I'm going to get you.
d. Let's call them.
e. She's waiting.


a. I ain't going nowhere.
b. Damn.
c. I'm gonna getcha.
d. Let's call em.
e. She's waitin'.

    4. Indicate regional accent at the beginning of the first caption. Example:


If y'all want me to.


[southern accent]
If y'all want me to.

    5. Keep the flavor of dialect. Example:


I just sort of held my knees
in water, and pulled him

across my kness and
examined him.


I just sort of held me knees
in water, and pulled him

across me knees
and examined him.

In Summary

The Captioning Key and Guidelines manual is 33 pages. The above represents approximately six (6) of those pages. Ergo, there's tons of info not covered. For example, Sound Effects which consist of either a Description or Onomatopoeia (the first time I read that one my eyes crossed) or both.

Anyway, I'm sure you get the idea. Open Captioning covers many nuances and subtleties. The Guidelines are the key to making knowledge, entertainment and information accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, to those that are seeking to improve their reading and other literacy skills, and to those that are learning to speak English as a second language.

A rather high objective and daunting task. Personally, I'm honored to be part of it.


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Stan Nicotera - E-mail: stan@capclassics.com

Our mailing address and phone:
SI Video Sales Group,
1318 S. Carlisle ST.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Phone: 267-519-2222
E-mail: Stan Nicotera - stann@sivideo.com

© Copyright 1998/2016 Stan Nicotera. All rights reserved.
Copyright pertains to the Captioned Version of all these movies with the US DOE Guidelines.

© Copyright 2005/2016 Stan Nicotera. All rights reserved.
Copyright notice pertains to all documents, files, pages, processes and text contained herein.