Not able to see or hear the TV?

Having trouble hearing the TV? Or is seeing what’s on the screen a problem? Not a problem personally but you know of others? The good news is that for many broadcast TV programmes help is at hand. You can switch on captions to read what is being said, or listen to an alternative commentary describing what is on the screen.


Able is New Zealand’s television captioning and audio description service, fully funded by New Zealand on Air – so let’s make sure people who would benefit know about and use it!

Captioning transcribes the soundtrack and displays it on the screen for deaf and hard of hearing. It is also a useful tool for those who are learners of English as a second language as they can read what is being said.

Audio Description (AD) is an alternative audio track that explains for the blind what is happening on the screen. It also adds other information –for example, the name of the person speaking if that is displayed on the screen.

Your local newspaper (and presumably other printed TV listings) show which programmes have Closed Captions with the ear symbol with a line through it. (CC)   Closed captions just means you have to turn them on – unlike the subtitles that appear on Foreign Language films that appear with the film.  Subtitles translate only dialogue.  Closed captions include other noises on the soundtrack, for example a motor revving, or a child crying off screen.


Sky TV viewers can use their EPG – Electronic Programme Guide  – in the Search function on their Sky remote to find programmes that have Closed Captions.  The Title Bar of the programme synopsis will show CC if they are available. The Sky Magazine shows seven channels with CC, footnoted as “Closed Captions where available” as not all the programmes on these channels will have them.  These are the documentary style channels, for example History and National Geographic. The magazine also says, “For full instructions on how to activate Closed Captions on your Sky Box visit” but a better link is

The magazine’s Sky Channel Guide shows only TV1 and TV2 with AD and says access details can be found at where you type Audio Description into the Search.

How to access captions for Free to Air TV differs with each device but usually involves a few easy steps.  Go to to find the directions for your device or devices.

They also have advice for accessing Audio Descriptions AD

If you get stuck, Able have people happy to help you. Phone 09 9505172 or find further contact details on

The website also tells you much more about Able including how they are funded, that not all programmes are captioned, and how they choose which programmes to caption.

I am fortunate that I can still see and hear TV but I find captions useful in some situations. On long haul flights I often have trouble hearing a movie soundtrack over the engine noise so I find either a foreign film with English subtitles or a film that has the Closed Caption option – on DVDs often called English for the Hard of Hearing. That way I can read on the screen what I can’t quite hear.

By Kaye Lally