Real Time Captioning for Work Settings
Prepared by the CCAC (Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning), a grass-roots advocacy and education network
Updated May 2012
Forty-eight million Americans are deaf, deafened, or have a hearing loss. This estimate is roughly one person in every five, all ages. For communication access that allows them to participate and contribute their skills and expertise to the economy throughout their lifespan, inclusion of quality captioning is essential. Millions more use captioning for other reasons also (e.g. literacy, languages, different auditory or cognitive profiles).
Accessible communication technologies have advanced in recent years, especially services and systems providing speech-to-text translation. This is a brief overview of considerations for employers and employees on captioning inclusion, benefiting not only all with hearing needs, but many others with language differences.
Captioning in this context means “speech-to-text translation.” It is full verbatim text for all spoken communications, in person (real-time), on videos, on the Internet, on telephone calls – wherever voices are used. It is not about new mobile phones, nor about automatic voice-trained recognition systems. (These apply for person-to-machine talk, and there is a long way to go in development before reaching the point where systems may provide captioning for human person-to-person exchange.)
2020: There’s been significant improvement in some machine systems since 2012. Best to test them thoroughly, with different voices, in different rooms. They may serve for one-on-one conversations at times, yet for groups of any size and for meetings, they may not have the accuracy required by good employees who need full quality live captioning.
Ninety percent or more of people with hearing loss do not use sign language. Even among those who do, there is much other detailed work information that can only be obtained via captioning inclusion. Also, people who use hearing aids, listening systems, and implants need captioning in many group situations, e.g., during conferences, in rooms with poor acoustics, and where there are people with different accents.
- Live Captioning (aka CART): For important conversations in person, and on the telephone, especially with three or more people working together in meetings, client presentations, training sessions and consultations, and for skilled labor communications, CART is a service that provides full communication access to all.
The acronym stands for “communication access realtime translation” – a professional service provided by a human captioning provider in the same room or “remotely” with modern telecommunications connections. CART professionals advise the employer on set-up, benefits, and costs, all depending on the needs, contract, etc. They are highly skilled professionals using special equipment and training to translate all voices in any conversation to immediate “realtime” text for all to read. The service provides a useful immediate transcript as well (minutes), and can be translated quickly into any language required. More detailed information can by found online or via e-mail to the CCAC or the NCRA (National Court Reporters Association).
- Telephone and Internet Calling: Telephone systems for the hard-of-hearing have improved substantially. For example, the Captel relay system for one-on-one conversations, using landline or Internet calling is quite easy to use. Older TTY systems are less user-friendly. Also, new companies are offering new versions of captioned telephone calls, many using a “re-speaking” system (man and machine) that is not costly, they say.
For conference calls and any important group conversations on the telephone however, the best method is to use a CART provider. Indeed, federal employees and five of our 50 states have a CART system available at no cost. We believe this system (called RCC via Sprint) should be available across the country for all who need it, and would surely advance the employment of educated and skilled people with different hearing needs.
- Captioning: Much of work today involves regular training sessions and materials of all sorts delivered via video, in a live workshop, large audience presentation, or online. Access here requires inclusion of quality captioning for the full sounds and voices on the video. This is accomplished by several methods, some even free for short videos (YouTube and Google systems), by other low cost technologies, or by a growing assortment of companies that offer these products and services.
A word here about captioning quality: There are many formats and systems for captioning inclusion on visual materials, and good quality is essential. Some features to consider include the placement of the captioning, size, and contrast with background, so that captioning is accessible for all.
This has an added business benefit in terms of “search engine optimization” for companies speaking to the world on the Internet. Key word searching within captioning content is a growing use for captioning inclusion, as well as easy-to-provide translation for global commerce.
- Regarding theater and museum captioning, e.g. when your business is part of large travel, entertainment and tourist industries, there are providers of captioning for these venue and events also. Different systems as well as human professionals are able to demonstrate and provide services for employees, customers and visitors, allowing entry and access for all via captioning inclusion.
Finally, entertainment captioning alone (television, movies and sports) is the best known use of communication access via speech-to-text across the country, and globally. As we write this document, for one example only, a five-year legal case involving one major cinema chain has just been settled with the result of requiring captioning devices to be available to customers across all their theaters. ADA laws require equal access for all.
2020: Today many advocates for inclusion at films and movies are asking for captioning (subtitles) on the screen (OC, Open Captioning) rather than devices which are often reported to be faulty, dirty, or awkward to use.
Finer details remain to be considered outside of this document. Consider this essential reality – your valuable current employees and new employees, as well as employers themselves, may face a hearing loss as they age. While not limited to older adults, the incidence of serious hearing loss increases with age, and if clear communications are not easy to access, there are wasted hours and additional costs, making the inclusion of captioning and CART from day one a wise budget item.