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Best practices for identifying, categorizing, and captioning non-speech sounds: Some results from a large study of closed captioned films

Proposal No: 242

Bios & Handouts


Disability Area:          

Topic Area:                

Length of Session (in hours): 1Format: Lecture Expertise Level: All Levels Type of session: General Conference

Summary of Session

I present the results of a large study of movie caption files in order to identify the types, uses, number, and range of non-speech sounds/captions. Non-speech information is notoriously difficult to caption effectively, and this presentation will also offer recommendations based on best practices.


What is non-speech information (NSI) and how do we caption it effectively? While we already have a pretty good idea of what the major categories of NSI are – paralanguage [grunts, sighs, etc.], speaker IDs, sound effects, language IDs, manner of speaking, music, and mediated by [e.g. over radio] – we don’t have a good understanding of the number, function, and range of non-speech captions across a wide terrain of professionally-captioned major motion pictures. Captioning style guides are limited when it comes to helping us identify which non-speech sounds are significant and how to caption them effectively. NSI is notoriously difficult to caption and requires a high level of creativity and sensitivity. This presentation will also offer a set of best practices for making non-speech sounds accessible to deaf, hearing, and hard-of-hearing caption readers.


  1. Identify the types, range, number, and functions of non-speech sounds and closed captions.
  2. Consider a number of compelling video examples drawn from a range of contemporary movies.
  3. Learn and discuss best practices for identifying and captioning non-speech sounds.

Speaker Bio(s)

Howard Kramer

Mr. Kramer has worked in assistive technology, disability, information systems and accessible media for more than 25 years. From 1997-2012 he worked with Disability Services at CU-Boulder, establishing the Assistive Technology Lab, which serves students with disabilities needing specialized access. He is founder and coordinator for the Accessing Higher Ground Conference: Accessible Media, Web & Technology, and teaches courses on Universal Design at CU-Boulder.