– Mark E. Smith

Ofcom, the U.K. broadcast regulator (whose office I kept walking by while in London for @media), commissioned a review of the literature (PDF) concerning captioning (as ever, errantly mislabelled as “subtitling”), audio description, and sign language. Itself a useful contribution, the lit review, published in March, nonetheless swallowed whole the total bullshit about Tiresias Screenfont and the “research” that claims to justify it as a font for digital captioning.

Tiresias Screenfont is, as you’ll recall, the homely sansserif font that costs up to $17,500 but doesn’t have an italic.

Here’s what the literature review said:

The Tiresias screenfont [sic] was carefully evaluated using people with a variety of visual and hearing impairments by RNIB and found to be useful. In its development, design considerations included the character shape, character weight (line thickness), intercharacter spacing, compatibility (in terms of maximum type size) with aspect-ratio switching, and character shapes that are difficult to distinguish. It has been adopted by the U.K. Digital Television Group as the standard font for interactive television and subtitling [sic].

The typeface absolutely was not “carefully evaluated.” I have now petitioned Ofcom to commission original research into the needs of captioning typography in the U.K.; to design new fonts if required; and to licence them for free, with the added possibility of assigning them an open-source licence.

In my cover letter, I was careful to specify that I was not trying to line myself up for such a research contract. The U.K. has one highly qualified researcher, and several more are at work in other countries. We gotta stop acting like Any Old Font Will Do for Deaf People, especially when the “research” backing it up pretty much only tested grannies with glasses. Junk science has got to stop someday.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.07.27 13:19. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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