Kudos to Baltimore for trying to do something about its illiteracy problem {news story, Aug. 27}. It is a tragedy that 200,000 people should pass through the school system not knowing how to read well enough to complete a job application. The greater tragedy, however, is that a simple piece of technology has existed for 10 years that could have taken a bite out of those illiteracy figures -- if only Baltimore school officials had known about it. I refer to closed-captioned television.

Closed captions are similar to subtitles, but they are invisible until decoded by special equipment attached to the television set. Closed captions were developed to give deaf and hearing impaired people access to television, but researchers are finding that watching captioned television can have positive benefits for hearing people as well. Children, illiterate adults and some learning disabled people can learn to read, while Hispanic and Asian immigrants are also gradually finding that closed captions boost their comprehension of confusing English idioms and expressions.

Closed-captioned television will not magically eliminate illiteracy, nor should closed-captioned programming substitute for a stack of good books. It is a disgrace, however, that caption decoders and television sets are only rarely a part of the curriculum in classrooms with students who can't read.