Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH): What is that?

Published on 05/12/2022

Have you ever thought about how important it is to have access to television, movies, or even your favourite YouTube channels? There are many people who do not have that luxury. Here's why.

One of the main purposes of audiovisual translation is the rapprochement of different cultures and languages. Dubbing and subtitling are tools that allow us to access different types of content regardless of our native language. However, regarding the subtitles, it is not only to help us to understand English or other languages.

Closed Captions are a special type of subtitles that, more than just localised translation, makes content more accessible to hearing impaired people. Similar to conventional subtitles, they can be used in television, cinema, and the audiovisual world in general, satisfying users who cannot hear the sound.

Índice de contenidos

Index of contents

Index du contenu


  1. How do they differ from conventional subtitles?
    1. Audiodescription
    2. Font size
    3. Font colour
    4. Speed

1. How do they differ from conventional subtitles?

1.1 Audiodescription

It is easy to imagine that someone with hearing problems would only need subtitles to enjoy any kind of content, but think for a second how much information we pick up through background sounds not only on a screen, but also in our daily lives. Ambient sound, music, a thunderous noise, all these elements are often used in the world of film and television, and can be lost if we only simply read normal subtitles.

For this reason, one of the crucial tools in creating closed SDHs is audiodescription. It is an element that describes scenes, focusing on details that cannot be perceived by the human eye. This makes it easier for the hearing impaired viewer to know the whole plot without any problems.

1.2 Font size

Ideally, the font of Closed Captions should be larger than standard subtitles. More than one of us has been unable to read subtitled content due to small or illegible fonts. For a deaf or hard hearing people it is worse, as they do not have the ability to consume content without subtitles.

The font size, type and colour should ensure that the audiovisual translation is easy to read, and adding a semi-transparent black background to the subtitles is common. In addition, the font should be used according to the language in which the subtitles are translated. The font used for English, Spanish or Italian subtitles will not be the same for subtitles written in Arabic, Chinese or Russian. The important thing is that it should be as legible as possible.

1.3 Font colour

As explained above, closed SDH must include audiodescriptions which contain all the information corresponding to the auditory part of the film or other audiovisual content. Ideally, this information is enclosed in brackets. On the other hand, the dialogues should be divided by colour, identifying each character with a different colour. This will help the deaf person to differentiate which dialogue corresponds to which person quickly.

1.4 Speed

Ideally, Closed Captions should be shorter than traditional subtitles. Not all of us have the ability to read as fast, so information must be compressed, while sticking to the original content. This is one of the most complex elements when creating subtitles for deaf and hard hearing people. Texts should be concise, without losing the original message of dialogues.

Facilitating this type of subtitling is not only important for people with disabilities, it is also crucial for a wide range of businesses, entrepreneurs and content creators, as it serves to expand audiences. YouTube, for example, has millions of videos with audiovisual translation from English to Spanish. However, most of them are created using the platform's automatic speech recognition, which does not always work well and lacks accessibility features for deaf people.

To create quality subtitles, it is best to seek the services of a translation company that specialises in this sector, or to hire a professional subtitling company that has experience with this material.

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Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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