Group wants PDX to ‘Turn on the Captions Now’

The Portland City Council is expected to take up the issue on July 2

One group is hoping to make subtitles a requirement at public places like gyms and bars across the City of Portland, June 12, 2015. (KOIN)
One group is hoping to make subtitles a requirement at public places like gyms and bars across the City of Portland, June 12, 2015. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Unless you’re hearing impaired, most people don’t use closed captioning on their TVs at home. But one group is hoping to make subtitles a requirement at public places like gyms and bars across the City of Portland.

Walking into the St. Honore Bakery on SE Division Street you’ll smell all kinds of pastries, but you may also notice a television with closed captioning turned on.

“Without captioning we’re at a loss as to what’s going on,” David Viers, who is hearing impaired, told KOIN 6 News.

Closed captioning on during The Price is Right on CBS, June 12, 2015. (KOIN)
Closed captioning on during The Price is Right on CBS, June 12, 2015. (KOIN)

Viers, Jim House and Steven Brown are all hearing impaired. They’ve been working with Carol Studenmund who runs a captioning service in Portland. Together, they hope to create an ordinance that would require all Portland televisions viewable to the public to have their captioning turned on.

Currently, the 3 men said they often have to ask for captions to be turned on, and the response isn’t always yes.

“Sometimes they will reply and give you caption access instantly,” House said. “Sometimes they’ll say they’ve lost the remote or it’s locked up. Sometimes it’s difficult to handle technology so that’s an issue.”

They’ve named the campaign “Portland: Turn on the Captions Now!” and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has already said she’s on board.

“It’s hard to imagine who would be opposed to it, it’s universal access so it means people won’t have to ask,” Fritz said. “Helps people like me who want to watch the TV while conversing with a lunch mate, and might be interested in what might be on television.”

Some worry the captions may cover up sports scores, but Studenmund said the FCC now requires stations to place those scores in an area where captions can still be seen. She said a lot of people are in favor of closed captioning to help them follow along while they’re in a noisy place.

“We’ve been captioning for the Blazers since 1999, a lot of people enjoy knowing what Mike Rice says during games, so it’s fun to have it on,” Studenmund said.

For those who are hearing impaired, it’s all about inclusivity and letting people know what’s going on, especially in the event of an emergency.

“If there’s an earthquake or some kind of warning, if people can look at captions they know to leave the building quickly,” Brown said.

The Portland City Council is expected to take up the issue on July 2 with a first reading. One week later, they’ll vote on it.

San Francisco and Maryland already have similar ordinances, but Portland’s plan goes further and would be a first for the country.

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