Turn on the Words!

To commemorate International Day of Persons with Disabilities, this week's review provides a history of the Deaf-led movement for captioning and underscores the importance of captions for society at large.

Turn on the Words: Deaf Audiences, Captions and the Long Struggle for Access

Lang, Harry G. Gallaudet, 2021
328p bibl index, 9781944838843 $34.95, 9781944838850 $34.95

"Turn on the Words: Deaf Audiences, Captions and the Long Struggle for Access" book cover. The book cover has two photos: the one at the top is of a protest march with people holding signs, and the one at the bottom is of students facing a projector screen in a classroom watching a video with captions. In the middle of the book cover is the book title and author name in purple text against a pale yellow background.

That captions enrich everyone—deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing persons as well as people with disabilities—is the kernel of this book. Lang (emer., National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology) turns dry details into vivid prose while chronicling the more than 70-year, Deaf-led movement for access to what hearing people take for granted: access to films/movies, television, videotapes/CD-ROMs, and internet videos/streaming media. Readers learn about Deaf persons from the 1950s to the present who not only provided technical expertise and program management but were savvy warriors flexing political muscle for protective federal legislation in support of captioning. Lang recounts personal stories, providing photos of Deaf scientists, community leaders, lawyers, parents, and teachers persistently pushing for captioning—a fight that goes on today for access to open captioning in public movie theaters. As a renowned scholar, scientist, historian, and teacher, Lang knows about English literacy challenges among young deaf learners and underscores the benefits of captioning for providing access to information and incidental learning, enabling Deaf signing persons to become culturally and linguistically literate while supporting the acquisition of reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. For background to this issue, readers may also consult Lang’s companion book—A Phone of Our Own: The Deaf Insurrection against Ma Bell (CH, Nov’00, 38-1534).

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
Reviewer: J. F. Andrews, emerita, Lamar University
Interdisciplinary Subject: Law & Society
Subject: Science & Technology – History of Science & Technology
Choice Issue: Nov 2022

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