Open captions


Captions are either open or closed. Open captions are always viewed as permanent alternative text in a video and cannot be turned off, whereas the viewer can turn closed captions on and off.

For the video displayed on television sets, special devices called decoders must be available to view closed captions.


In 1949, British producer J. Arthur Rank etches open captions onto glass slides, which appear on a smaller screen in the lower left-hand corner of the main screen. When the film Dawn Departure, which contains Rank's method of captioning, has its premier showing in London, it's reported that several hundred deaf people line up to gain entrance to the theater. These open captions prompted the creation of Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD).

CFD began purchasing films in 1951 to caption, and there were incorporated into law in the state of Connecticut by 1955.

In 1958, we saw the Captioned Films Act of 1958 to provide the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare with a loan service for captioned films for the deaf.

Once the Captioned Films Act of 1958 was established, educational films began to receive open captions.

In 1971, the TV "captioning industry," with the Captioning Center (now Media Access Group at WGBH), is formed.

In 1972, “The French Chef” with Julia Child was the first open captioned program to air, meaning that the captions appear to everyone watching and cannot be turned off.

The Described and Captioned Media Program, the nation’s leading source of accessible educational videos, has a complete timeline of historical moments related to making film more inclusive for those with hearing impairments.


Open captions are also known as permanent alternative text overlayed on videos.