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Closed Captioning Finally Enters Digital Age

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It started with the Yellow Brick Road.

One evening in 2009, I sat down on my living room couch with my family to watch "The Wizard of Oz" on Netflix. It was all up there on the screen in my living room: Dorothy, the farm in Kansas, Toto, the twister. Only one important thing was missing for me. The closed captioning.

Perplexed, I took to Twitter to express my disappointment. My frustration resonated with others who felt left out by new technologies that didn't take the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing into account. I worked with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to send a letter to Congress demanding companies that offer streaming and online video stop excluding the 30 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.

It didn't end there. In 2011, the NAD sued Netflix for failing to provide closed-captioning on most of its streaming content. We weren't going to let the future of entertainment pass us by. Netflix settled this lawsuit by promising to have all of its shows subtitled by 2014. Thankfully, all video streaming companies including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others have to offer closed captioning by April 30, 2014 or else be subject to the same fines as traditional broadcast television.

But there's still more than we can do to make closed captioning and subtitles available to those who need them. On Feb. 20, 2014 the FCC outlined new rules requiring improved accuracy in closed captioning, an initiative ten years in the making, according to the Los Angeles Times.

There are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world - why shouldn't we all be able to take part in each other's culture? Sharing the things that make us laugh, think and cry can unite us and shine a light on what we have in common rather than what makes us different. Stories about love, honor and family show us how alike we are at heart, no matter what language we speak.

Marlee Matlin is an Oscar-winning actress and the foremost advocate for closed captioning. She is expanding her work worldwide. She is currently working on the Billion Words March with global TV site Viki.com to help translate and subtitle TV shows and movies into 200 languages -- making TV entertainment more accessible to everyone.