Many of us have seen sign-language interpreters but how many of us have seen the captions under the screen that show what the speaker is saying? Captioning is a technology that works for almost everyone especially those of us with hearing problems. It helps people with mild loss, who may have trouble hearing at a lecture, as well as the deaf. For the moderately hard of hearing, the captions reinforce the spoken (or sung or played) sounds. For those who can’t understand what they hear, even with other hearing assistance, the captions provide a live transcript.
Captions are words displayed on a television, computer, mobile device (Zoom), or movie screen (did you know, theaters are required by ADA to provide them upon request?). Captions provide the speech or sound portion of a program or video via text that allow viewers to follow the dialogue and the action of a program simultaneously.
For people with hearing loss who have residual hearing, captions can make the spoken words easier to understand—because hearing, like vision, is influenced by our expectations. (When you have an idea of what someone might be about to say, his or her speech may seem clearer). Captions can also provide information about who is speaking or about sound effects that might be important to understanding a news story, political event, or the plot.
Captions are frequently created from the program’s script or audio file although Artificial Intelligence (AI in the form of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) is becoming prevalent. A caption writer translates the dialogue into captions and makes sure the words appear in sync with the audio. Computer software encodes the captioning information and combines it with the audio and video to create a new master tape or digital file of the program. The captions should appear near the bottom or top of the screen—not in the middle, where misplaced captions can cover the newscaster’s face, a basketball hoop or a quarterback passing the football. A caption writer (sometimes trained as a court reporter or stenographer) uses a stenotype machine with a phonetic keyboard and special software. A computer translates the phonetic symbols into English captions almost instantaneously. The slight delay is based on the captioner writer’s need to hear and code the word, and on computer processing time. Pre-recorded programming (television shows, movies, documentaries) all should been seen with no errors at all. Although real-time captioning strives to reach 98 percent accuracy, the audience will see errors, especially in sports. The caption writer may mishear a word, hear an unfamiliar word, or have an error in the software dictionary. In addition, transmission problems can create technical errors that are not under the control of the caption writer. Real-time captioning can be used for programs that have no script; live events, including congressional proceedings; news programs; and non-broadcast meetings, such as the national meetings of professional associations.
Do you know how to turn on captions? It’s beyond our focus today to explain and it will be the subject of our early meetings. We also want you to insist that presenters at your local club meetings enable captions so you can follow along with what is being said.
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