Live captioning

This page provides information about live captioning, which provides text access to all significant audio content for Deaf and hearing impaired people.

Live captioning includes spoken dialogue, along with information such as who is speaking, sound effects (e.g. door knocks, footsteps, noises offstage), laughter and a description of the music.

A trained captioner prepares the captions in advance so they mirror the rhythm and flow of the actors’ dialogue. The captioner then cues the captions live at the performance as the action unfolds on stage.

Captioning is available on television and DVDs but was used for the first time on the New Zealand stage in 2014 in MilkMilkLemonade, a play directed by Anna Henare for Hurdy Dur Productions.

It’s a great way of improving access to Deaf and hearing impaired people, anyone who has difficulty following strong accents, and people whose first language is not English.

Lectures and book readings

Captioning can also be used for lectures or book readings although in these situations, the captioner will often be working live and may use specialist predictive text software. This is used in some tertiary institutions to provide access to lectures and so the disability service at your local tertiary institution might be able to offer you support with this.

The surtitles for opera productions use equipment that could also be used for captioning. Smartphone apps are another option, enabling captions to be delivered to patrons’ personal devices. However, as with any technology, it’s important to remember that some people don’t have smartphones or access to the internet.

Engaging with the local Deaf community

Before embarking on the provision of captioning, it’s a good idea to talk to your local Deaf community to find out whether signing or captioning would be more appropriate for your event. Some Deaf people will prefer Sign Language while others will prefer captioning. The nature of the performance might also dictate which format will work best.

After you have engaged with the local Deaf community, here are some other key things to consider:

  • Book your captioner and make sure they have access to the scripts and equipment, and have plenty of opportunity to rehearse.
  • Make the most of your captioned event by letting all of the groups that might benefit know about it.
  • Plan where the best place in the auditorium is to put the screens showing the captioning. Audience members need to be able to follow the action onstage as well as read the captions.
  • If the captioning will only be visible from certain areas of the auditorium, reserve seating for patrons who require it in that area, and encourage people to book early.
  • If you require people to use smartphones, provide them with all the necessary information in advance, especially if they will need to download apps.

Once you have the equipment and the processes in place, you can use them for all sorts of ideas: for example, providing subtitles in other languages for non-English speaking audiences; or offering English subtitles for performances delivered entirely in Sign Language by Deaf performers.



Stace Robertson: Stace is Lead Accessibility Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa (T: 04802 4349 E: Stace works Monday to Thursday.  More about Stace

Milly Hampton: Milly is Arts For All Activator, Arts Access Aotearoa (T: 04802 4349 E: Milly works Monday to Thursday.  More about Milly

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Connect through music: this video was made by Lala Rolls of Island Productions Aotearoa for Arts Access Aotearoa and Chamber Music New Zealand.

Access for all:
“The good thing about being focused on access and accessibility is that you create a better experience for everybody,” says Philip Patston in this video, made by Lala Rolls of Island Productions Aotearoa for Arts Access Aotearoa. 


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