Captioning or Sign Language? That Is the Question

Dr. Tony Evans is a Christian evangelist who travels all over the world with his revivals. I was anxious to see him speak when he came to my city, but I had one question. Would I understand him?

My hearing loss makes it difficult to catch all the words coming from even the most eloquent speaker. I had been told that Dr. Evans is known for delivering rapid-fire sermons that keep listeners on the edge of their seats. But what about those who can’t hear?

My friend from church, Melany, and I volunteered to perform three worship songs in sign language at Dr. Evans’ event. “America the Beautiful” was one of them—a tribute to the revival’s challenge of uniting Americans of every color to spread the word of God. My friend and I practiced the song and knew the signs by heart. With less than 24 hours to go ’til the revival, I was less sure I would understand the rest of the event. Attempts to seek out volunteer captioning typists had failed. Captioning is my lifeline when it comes to understanding speech at live events. Without it, I feel lost.

Two sign language interpreters stepped in to offer their services. I had mixed feelings about sign language because I don’t know every sign. I have learned enough to sign worship music, but signing isn’t my first language. English is. With sign only, I can sometimes miss an important word or entire sentence. Still, I was appreciative of any gesture to make Dr. Evans’ speech fully understandable.

Less than 12 hours before the revival, my friend texted this message: “We have captioning!” I learned my church had flipped the bill on a professional captioning service just for me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

The night of the revival, a section was roped off for those of us with hearing loss. My friend and I, along with my son, the captionist, and two sign interpreters, filled up a row. I was handed a small device for reading my captions. It looked like an iPad with a split monitor screen to display the captionist’s transcription on the top half, and for me to type messages to her on the bottom.

Before Melany and I took the stage to sign our songs, our two volunteer interpreters took the stage to sign the event’s opening remarks and prayers.

I divided my attention between reading the captioning screen and watching the interpreters. When it was Dr. Evans’ turn to speak, I planned to focus mostly on the captioning. I wanted to catch every word of his rapid-fire preaching.

But then I noticed something. While the captionist typed extremely fast, the sign interpreting was a bit faster. The interpreter also used her body language and facial expression to reveal Dr. Evans’ tone of voice. It was captivating to watch.

While I caught the words from captioning, the sign language was enthralling. What I didn’t understand in sign, the captions clarified. When my eyes grew weary from reading, I looked up and watched the visual language in front of me. I understood every word Dr. Evans’ spoke. And yes, I was on the edge of my seat!

This was my first experience with a fully accessible sign language and captioning event. Which interpretation did I prefer? There is no question. Both.

Which would you have preferred?

My captioning device

Professional captionist Katherine Porter

Sign Language Interpreter Sharon Volk (photo from Sharon Volk)


11 thoughts on “Captioning or Sign Language? That Is the Question

  1. What a wonderful story. I am so happy it worked out the way it did. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Because I don’t know sign language enough, I would have had to read the captioning.

  2. A point to ponder. Deafness is associated with loss of brain matter and linked to dementia. Learning ASL stimulates the language centers of the brain and appears to act as if there is no language loss so now brain density loss is prevented. I feel as if learning sign is very important for brain health. I hope you will encourage your readers to consider this.

    Also, the more you use CART and terps the better it gets. CART operators have limited dictionaries, good terps can act out so much you almost don’t need to understand the language. I am at the point of preferring terps over CART. my last repo I used the clients terps more than the CART.

  3. I attended the HLAA convention in Rhode Island. I wound up hanging out with a group of hard of hearing people who signed as they talked. At first I felt intimidated but as I got comfortable with them, I found I was able to read some of the the sign. A few times it helped me to understand the conversation when I didn’t get it verbally. I saw sign as a wonderful tool or aid to help communication. Even if I can only use a few words a sentence, it helps. It’s convinced me to keep up with sign classes at our d/Deaf and hard of hard of hearing center.
    Now to make a habit of it for those around me. I can at least teach it to my 1 1/2 yr old grandson if no one else.

    • Hi Chelle – Thanks for joining in the conversation! That’s awesome you were able to attend the HLAA convention. What did you think of the captioning there? Was this your first convention?

      • It was my first hearing loss convention and I loved it! It was ‘my world’ and I didn’t want it to end. The captioning was mostly good. It depended on the CART person. It was my first time using loops and WOW!. I found out I didn’t need the CART so much with looping. What a wonderful experience all the way around.

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