Minnesota campaign ads get captioning makeover

On the Internet, on TV, on the radio – candidates running for state office have for years competed for as many ears as possible. Now they will have to compete for eyes as well. During the 2008 legislative session, Minnesota became the fourth state to pass a captioning law for campaign ads.

Effective July 1, all candidates running for state-level office in Minnesota must include closed captioning on their television and website ads. Transcripts of website ads must be placed on a campaign’s website. The law also requires written transcripts of radio ads on campaign websites.

This law benefits everyone, not just the 10% of Minnesotans who are deaf, hard of hearing, and/or deafblind. Many people find themselves in places like gyms where the sound is turned off but a TV is on. Other people simply understand things better if they can see information in text form.

But you might not see captions on ads for Minnesota’s United States Senate race this year – because the captioning law doesn’t apply to them. Captioning of campaign ads remains voluntary for county- and federal-level Minnesota candidates. It also doesn’t apply to presidential candidates, who are covered by a separate federal law.

Rhode Island, California, and Florida have had their state campaign ads captioned for years. Their example shows that it is easy to do and is not rocket science. It just takes a little education.

The law took effect July 1, and the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MCDHH) is ready to educate prospective viewers and voters. CDs will be ready and waiting for all candidates to watch and learn what to do. Presentations on how to caption their ads will be made. For candidates who like to get hands-on experience will be provided on how to caption political ads.

With all of the available resources there simply will be no excuse not to caption their campaign ads. But for candidates who don’t want to caption their ads, an opt-out option remains. Candidates can file a statement for each ad aired with Minnesota regulators explaining why the captions are missing.

Jamie Taylor is Civic Access and Technology Specialist for the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MCDHH)