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What a [bleep] – How to Caption Expletives?

A video clip with Svetlana showing a surprise face. Text on right: What a d**k! Captions on bottom: What does the last word mean?!
Click the photo to view the video.

There have been many instances where captions were censored on TV or in a video even though when the audio was not. Of course, profanity is not meant to be heard by minors. However, if speech can be clearly heard word for word on TV or in a video, it also needs to be captioned word for word – including expletives. So deaf and hard of hearing adults have the right to know every word said – otherwise censored captions of speech (that is clearly heard) would be considered a form of paternalism.

Check out the video – in spoken and signed English with English captions (that can be enabled by clicking on the CC button). Alternatively, you can read a full transcript with visual description below.

Full text transcript with visual description:

(Video description: A female brunette in a blue top signing and talking in front of camera at same time. A book case is behind her.)

Sveta’s voice:

“I was listening to a college professor through a sign language interpreter many years ago. In the middle of his class, he started to swear and then asked the interpreter not to sign to deaf people what he said. The interpreter said sorry she already interpreted everything he said and if he didn’t want deaf people to know what he said then he should not swear in the front of hearing people either. The interpreter had a good point. Deaf people feel patronized when hearing people ask not to interpret their expletives or don’t caption them in their videos.

I’m not encouraging you to use colorful language, but deaf people are not little kids. You may be surprised how many deaf people can swear like a sailor! So censoring a written version of a spoken expletive is a sign of paternalism.

Many video producers often replace written expletives with asterisks – even though they can be heard and are not bleeped.

For example, like that one:”

(Video description: A green box appears on right saying: “What a d**k!”)

Sveta: “What does the last word mean?! It could mean anything like this:”

(Video description: Another green box appears on bottom saying various words: “dank, dark, dawk, deck, desk, dhak, dirk, dock, duck, dunk, dusk.”)

Sveta: “We deaf and hard of hearing people are doing enough of guesswork in lipreading and we don’t need any more guesswork in captioning!

So how to caption this? There are two ways:

First – bleep the word you want to censor in ADUIO – like that:”

(Video description: A green box on right changes words to say: “What a [bleep]!” with Sveta voicing them.)

Sveta: “- OR -”

[Second] – write the full word that everyone heard – like that:”

(Video description: A green box on right changes words to say: “What a dork!” with Sveta voicing them.)

Sveta: “Again, if you don’t feel comfortable writing out expletives, then don’t utter them. Simple. Otherwise you are not providing full and equal access to aural information to many millions, millions of deaf and hard of hearing people.

Thank you for watching!

I’m Sveta, the founder of Audio Accessibility. I provide consulting services, training sessions, workshops to organizations about deafness awareness, quality captioning, and various types of communication access. I’m an author of a book about captioning as universal design. Check out the links:”

(Showing a slide with contact information:
Twitter: @audio_a11y)

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