Guide to Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH)

Posted by Anne Quach on September 10, 2021.

Compared to Closed Captions and Subtitles, the term Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (or SDH) seems to be less familiar to the wider public. However, the use of SDH in the media industry is extensive, especially for your success in global markets.

In this post, we will guide you through the concept of SDH, its key benefits, and its technicalities.

What are Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH)?

To understand the concept of Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing, let’s take a look at the definitions of Closed Captions and Subtitles first:

  • Closed Captions (CC) are the transcription of all dialogue, narration, and non-verbal elements (e.g. background noises, song lyrics, etc.) in a video. Closed captions appear at the bottom of the video and are used for people with hearing impairments or social media videos that are played mute in default.
  • Subtitles are the translated version of the video’s dialogue and narration. They intend for people who do not speak the language used in the video’s audio.

SDH vs. Closed Captions

An example of Closed Captions and SDH.

Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH) are the combination of Closed Captions and Subtitles, making it the most comprehensive type of captioning and subtitling. SDH includes the translations of both verbal and non-verbal sounds of a video.

With SDH, your audio product is accessible to non-native speakers who are deaf or hard of hearing, language learners, and social media users.


Why is having SDH subtitles for your video important?

The benefits that SDH brings are various and undeniable, for not only viewers but also media producers:

Reach audiences with hearing impairments 

About 430 million people (over 5% of the world’s population) require rehabilitation to address their ‘disabling’ hearing loss. Without subtitles, they cannot or may have a hard time enjoying audio-based content. By including SDH, your media products are accessible to a much wider range of potential audiences.

Attract more foreign audiences

One of the two key purposes of SDH is to support people who cannot speak the language used in the video. That means your content can be discovered and consumed by people from different countries and cultures around the world which is key to better global reach and success.

Gain social media engagement

Originally, SDH was intended only for people who are deaf or have partial hearing disabilities. However, with the booming of the Internet and social media, SDH serves another goal.

85% of Facebook video is watched without sound. Videos on social media platforms are played mute by default and many people prefer watching them without sound, especially when they are in public places. If your videos do not have subtitles, users can’t understand the content without having to hear the sound. As a result, they will scroll down to other content, meaning you are losing viewers and engagement. Therefore, bringing convenience to your audiences by including SDH in every social media video is a great way to gain more engagement.

Meet legal requirements

In many countries, airing videos without captions is against the law and civil rights of people with disabilities. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all promotional videos, presentations, and commercials played in public places to have captions. Likewise, in 2010, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was passed, governing that content broadcast on television must have closed captions.

The law also applies to streaming services. In fact, in 2012, the famous streaming service Netflix was under a lawsuit and required to provide subtitles and captions to all of their shows.

Needless to say, to widely distribute your content to global markets, acknowledging and following the local legal requirements is the prerequisite for your success globally.


The technicalities of SDH Subtitles 


While closed captions are usually white texts displayed on a black band, SDH’s display is in the same proportional font as translated subtitles on a DVD.

In addition, viewers can use the control options to change the fonts, colours, and size of the SDH in some videos.


Closed captions can be shown anywhere in the videos. It can be centred at the bottom or top of the video or on the left/right side to avoid overlapping conversation and interference with other on-screen activities.

SDH vs. Closed Captions

The closed caption is placed near the speaker to the right while the SDH is centred.

However, this is not the case for SDH. The position of SDH is fixed, usually centred in the lower bottom third of the screen.


Unlike closed captions which are encoded as a stream of text, commands, and control codes, SDH is encoded as a series of tiny dots or pixels (also known as bitmap images).

SDH subtitles are encoded differently based on the medium and its purpose of use. In fact, there are over 20 subtitle formats out there. Some formats let you change the subtitle positioning or colours and some do not.

To choose the right format to encode for your videos, you should consider where the videos will be distributed. Will it be aired on TV, streamed on Youtube, or burned into DVDs?


How to create SDH for your videos?

Two popular choices for making subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are computer-generated subtitles and professional subtitlers.

Using subtitles generated automatically (e.g. Youtube’s automatic caption or Facebook’s Automatic Caption Feature) is a good choice if you need a fast and cost-effective solution.

However, for media products where accuracy and viewer experience are of great importance, the use of computer-generated subtitles might not be enough as:

  • Machines are unlikely to understand video’s context, different accents, or slang;
  • Machines are likely to miss or mix up non-verbal sounds with dialogues;
  • The quality of audio affects greatly the outcomes of the subtitles;
  • Many technical issues may occur during the subtitling generating process.

Due to these drawbacks, the involvement of professional subtitlers is highly recommended. Although the price is much higher than the other option, the accuracy of subtitle translations is guaranteed and technical issues can be handled quickly all by experts.

If you are looking to make SDH for your media products, consider the videos’ purposes, distribution platforms, and budget to make the right choice.

In case you are still unsure, drop us a line and receive a free consultancy from GTE Media’s media localization experts.

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