Hearing Loss Access: Zoom & Google, Make Free Captions Available Now

People with hearing loss have trouble communicating in many situations leading to isolation and loneliness during normal times. Today, amid COVID-19, things are even tougher. In-person conversation has moved online, leaving many people with hearing loss few options for connecting with family and friends, especially seniors who are most at risk for developing virus complications.

Free automatic speech recognition (ASR) captioning for people with hearing loss on video conference platforms like Zoom and Google could make all the difference. Today I pen an open letter to these companies. Please share my words and add your own. Together, we can bring about the change we need to remain engaged and productive in today’s challenging times.

An Open Letter To Zoom, Google & Microsoft

Dear Zoom, Google, Microsoft and other video conferencing providers,

Please make free ASR captions available on your platforms for people with hearing loss immediately. In most cases, the technology exists and is integrated into your platform behind a paywall. Providing this service for free for people with hearing loss would not only improve the accessibility of your product, it is also the right thing to do.

Communicating by video call has become the new reality in our COVID-19 world. Video calls are helpful for people with hearing loss because we can see the other person’s face, which helps with lipreading. But in meetings with many participants, or even in one on one conversations with people using weak microphones or laggy internet connections, video is not enough for understanding. Captioning is necessary.

The gold standard of captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation or CART, where a live transcriber types what is spoken in real time. But technology is rapidly catching up and now a handful of high quality automatic speech recognition (ASR) options do exist. In these times of change, an ASR alternative can be acceptable for most communications.

What can Zoom do today to improve accessibility?

Zoom provides the option to offer CART through its service, but CART requires the availability of a live transcriber in the meeting and is very expensive. This is unrealistic for most people with hearing loss living in this economic crisis brought on by COVID-19.

Zoom also allows for integration with Otter, a popular speech-to-text app used effectively by many people with hearing loss for its high quality ASR, but only for paid Zoom accounts. Zoom must remove this paywall for people with hearing loss.

What can Google do today to improve accessibility? 

Google has long been a leader in providing accessibility tools for people with hearing loss. It speech-to-text app Live Transcribe is fast and accurate and its Live Caption app brings ASR captioning to digital media. Google falls short when it comes to its video conferencing product, which limits its ASR captioning to its paid G-suite customers. Google must remove this paywall for people with hearing loss.

What can Microsoft do today to improve accessibility?

Microsoft offers free captioning through Powerpoint, Microsoft Stream and its Skype video chat (up to 50 people), but it restricts access to captioning for larger meetings behind a pay wall. Microsoft must remove the paywall for people with hearing loss.

Readers, what would free auto captions on video platforms like Zoom mean for your ability to stay connected?


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58 thoughts on “Hearing Loss Access: Zoom & Google, Make Free Captions Available Now

  1. This is very important, Shari. Captions aren’t automatic and rely on someone transcribing. I can manage until the end of the school year without but long term, I don’t think I can teach properly without them.

  2. Excellent letter.
    On another note, I do not do twitter or facebook and was unable to reach you with the email you provide on-line.
    Do you recommend a brand of headphones for people with hearing aids?

  3. This is axactly what i was bringing up to my boss just yesterday! It is so stressful to be expected to understand people’s in an online meeting platform. Free captioning programs can absolutely change mine.and many other’s lives for the better.

  4. You can get live captioning for free. Instead of being locked into someone’s platform like Google or Skype (where they record what you’re saying and sell that information to advertisers and share it with the government), you can use http://www.streamer.center to caption conversations of any size and length and most any language. It works with Zoom, Skype, Teams, Webex, RingCental, anything. It’s free for the first month and then $9/month after that. That’s not a per user fee, that’s for unlimited captioning with an unlimited number of people and for something like 100 languages.

  5. I am using this downtime to get a LOOP hearing assist system installed in our community theater in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. (PistarckleTheater). I will start posting all of livingwithhearinglass.com information on my Rob Kunkel timeline. The time is right to get people paid to install a LOOP system to hook up with conventional hearing aids.

  6. This letter should also include Facebook and WhatsApp the most widely used social media video calling platforms. I once wrote a similar letter to WhatsApp butt was ignored. I’ve been trying to get my contacts to be calling me on Skype only but old habits die hard.

      • Also Amazon’s Echo Show, which is one of the simplest ways to contact isolated and elderly family members. I am hard of hearing and so is my 90 year old mother, who is isolating per UK lockdown rules. Because of its simplicity, we are using the Echo Show with her to see her face and gesticulate! But to actually communicate in words, we need to run a side conversation via text messages. It’s time consuming and we get very little actual conversation done.

  7. Hi, can you tell me more about this? I’m looking on their website but am not clear. Firstly, the demo video ironically has no captioning. Also, if I sign up and receive a captioning room, are captions automatically done for me while I say, conduct my class on Zoom? I will get captioning for the people in my Zoom class?

  8. Thanks so much for writing this…I was just posting the question…”how can I add captions to a YouTube video that. I posted to Youtube?” It was from 1995…it was transferred to dVD from vCR tape….any idea how to do this? I’ve been going crazy since I first uploaded the video in 2016. I ALSO desperately want to do Zoom videos, but the only way to get captions is to hire a typist who does it manually… this is terrible…what to do?

    • If you send the video to rev.com, they will caption it for you at the cost of $1.25 per minute and then load the captions SRT file to YouTube for you. I believe you can review the captions to make sure they are correct first. Hope this helps.

  9. About a month ago I signed up for a G Suite business account for a 14 day free trial. G Suite “Meet” is integrated with Live Transcribe as a closed captioning option-of course nothing beats a real live CART provider for accuracy-and it is surprisingly accurate if the speaker is clear. Being able to talk to family and loved ones, and to have the ability to participate in online meetings, has really enhanced my life. It’s like I can talk on the telephone again. I decided to keep the account and pay $12.00 a month, for now. I’m hoping G Suite will open up Meet for all Hangout connections as free feature.

    Here is the message I sent to G Suite recently: “Please consider making Meet a complimentary (available for free) feature for Gmail/Hangout users who are deaf or hard of hearing. I opened a G Suite account just to be able to have the Live Transcribe closed captions to talk with my family and to participate in online meetings during the COVID-19 isolation. Live Transcribe is pretty accurate and allows me to participate.

    “However, forcing people with disabilities to pay for the access that fully-abled users have automatically sends a wrong message. I’m currently paying $12.00 a month just talk with my family and participate in online meetings. Your failure to provide this for free, when you have that capability, is like charging me a tax for being deaf.

    “Please consider opening up this valuable feature, for free, in Hangouts. People with Hearing Loss and other deserve to have access that is equal to the fully-abled without having to pay for it.”

  10. A problem for me using Skype with CC is that I don’t know what my wife, sat beside me, is saying, which makes conversations one-sided. A work around that works fairly well is, while Skyping or Messaging on my IPad to put my phone next to it opened on Live Transcribe or Speech Notes. That way I get the gist of most of the conversation.although it is still not always clear who is saying what.

  11. I believe there is also an initiative started to ask Google to open Live Transcribe to not just mobile phones from the Pixel3 forward.

  12. I have family members who do not trust Zoom. We have been using Messenger for family chats twice a week. I am missing parts of the conversation and didn’t realize there were captioning options. Does Facebook’s messenger offer anything? I am just becoming familiar with “living with hearing loss” and am finding it encouraging and helpful. Thanks!

    • Facebook does not offer captions that I know about. Zoom has fixed many of its security issues, but even on Zoom, captions are not available without a paid account. Hopefully that can change. Good luck to you!

  13. My HLAA chapter is requesting a free Google Suite account which is apparently available to non profits. This is the approach we are taking to make Zoom have captions for virtual meetings. I haven’t heard if our chapter has been approved for the free account as yet.

  14. Can you let me know?
    I created the first ever HOH support group for English speakers, in Israel.

    We cannot meet in person anymore.

    I want zoom, but Zoom does not provide captions without a CART person present!!

    How stupid is that?’

    Thank you

  15. I am a teacher who happens to have severe to profound hearing loss and I am struggling to understand my students on Zoom without captions. I cannot use Google Hangouts because my districts have firewalled anyone who doesn’t have a district email from using it, meaning my student’s parents can’t access it to enter a meeting with me and their student. We need Zoom to caption so badly. Thank you for being a voice for us.

  16. Are you saying that, if you pay for Zoom, you get captions?
    I heard that the only way to get captions on Zoom is by using Cart. … which we don’t have overseas

    • So, what am I supposed to do? I don’t know what to do here. Have you written to these companies, or spoken to anyone (they don’ t list phone numbers on their websites) …were you able to find a phone number and speak with him or her?

      • Step one is this open letter. You can help by sharing it and also writing to the companies yourself. Zoom’s email address is access@zoom.us. Google’s twitter is @googleaccess. It won’t be an easy process, but every little bit can help raise awareness.

  17. Ava is saying that they can connect with Zoom (using that API Token in Zoom). I would attach the instructions but I don’t think I can attach a pdf file here. (Need an ava “pro” account however). I use the free Zoom account.

  18. I’m part of a weekly hearing loss group. We are currently struggling to find a way to continue to meet online that is accessible to everyone in the group. Depressing really given we’re a group that are already prone to isolation and loneliness. I hope your petition leads to change. I won’t hold my breath though.

    • Perhaps if you meet weekly a Google Meets account might be in your budget. That provides good ASR captions but you need a paid account. Help spread the word on the petition if you can and good luck to you.

  19. Thank you so much for spearheading this action, Shari. I’ll do what I can to spread the word on the petition. I can forward it to Maryland Centers for Independent Living, which are state and federally funded and in every state. I’m sure they would post this on social media. Additionally, I’ll reach out to MD Governor’s Office for Deaf and hard of hearing, MD Dept of Disabilities, Telecommunication Access MD, Department of Aging and some other groups supporting deaf and hoh people and see if they’ll also post. Perhaps folks in other states can find the same or similar groups.
    Thank you so much and stay well!

  20. Would you also add Cisco WebEx To the open letter please? Their closed captioning feature is also behind a paywall.

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