Hearing Access: Zoom is Beta Testing Integrated Auto Captions

Another day, another Zoom meeting. Or make that two or three Zoom meetings. Much of the world continues to operate remotely, meaning virtual communication remains critical — and without captions, these events are very challenging for people with hearing loss. Several options now exist for free auto-captioned remote conversation including Google Meet and Skype, but Zoom, the most popular platform, remains un-captioned, except via third-party add-ons in their premium plans. This is a big problem for people with hearing loss.

About a month ago, I penned an open letter to Zoom and other video conferencing companies asking them to make the high quality auto speech recognition (ASR) captioning available in their premium plans free for people with hearing loss. The gold standard of captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation or CART, where a live transcriber types what is spoken in real time, but this is not always available or cost effective for personal use. Hence the need for free ASR captioning.

My post turned into a petition that has garnered more than 34,000 signatures. I am extremely proud of how the hearing loss community has come together to advocate for its needs in this time of crisis. I’ve been asked how long I will keep the petition going. The answer: Until we get the results we need. Sign or share the petition here.

An Update on Free Auto Captioning on Zoom

Since the petition launched I have been in email contact with Zoom management. They are aware of the important issue of free ASR captioning for people with hearing loss on their platform, and some work is being done on this front. Still, nothing formal has been announced yet. This is what I learned.

Prior to COVID-19, Zoom was beta testing ASR captioning that was directly integrated into its platform for paid accounts. Zoom was considering making this service free for people with hearing loss with verification via an audiologist note. This integrated service would be different from the current methods used to access captions in Zoom premium accounts since the captions would be directly integrated into the platform. Currently captioning requires a third party partner such as Rev.com (beta), Otter.ai or a live CART captioner.

When the pandemic hit, Zoom’s volume jumped exponentially, pushing the ASR captioning project to a back burner, as Zoom focused on beefing up its security and increasing its hosting infrastructure. This makes sense, but as things settle down, Zoom must make its ASR captioning project a priority and commit to making this premium service widely available for people with hearing loss.

Zoom’s Beta ASR Captioning Works Well

I had the chance to try out the beta ASR captions when I attended a Zoom informational webinar entitled “Hosting Large Events: Webinars vs. Meetings” as part of my research for our upcoming Hearing Loss Virtual Meeting sponsored by Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). We are always looking for ways to enhance the experience. Please join us for the next meeting on June 6th at 2pm EDT which features Toni Iacolucci and Elaine McCaffrey discussing Advocacy & Impact: Effective Communication in Healthcare Settings. Use this link to join the meeting

The beta captioning, called Live Transcript, worked very well. The placement was fine at the bottom of the screen, although it did obscure part of the slide presentation. You could open the captions as a full transcript in the sidebar, but they also remained at the bottom of the screen. The accuracy was quite good — I believe it is using the Otter AI platform — particularly since both presenters spoke very rapidly! Thank goodness the captions were there or I would have missed much of the content. You can see a screenshot of the captions in the post image above.

What’s Next For Free ASR Captions on Zoom?

The good news is that a workable option exists on Zoom and that they are beta testing it. The bad news is that this feature is not yet available and now is when it is likely needed most. If you want Zoom to roll this out now and to make sure that people with hearing loss have free access, please sign and share the petition. I will continue to send updates to Zoom management. You can also reach out to Zoom directly at access@zoom.us or via Twitter @Zoom_us to explain why free ASR captions on Zoom are so critical for you.

Readers, how are you adapting to the life of Zoom meetings?

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43 thoughts on “Hearing Access: Zoom is Beta Testing Integrated Auto Captions

  1. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Shari, thanks for the follow up. Looks like you truly made some inroads. The power of one!
    Interesting you mentioned OTTER. I figured out a work-around for Zoom (or other online non captioned) where I place my phone near my desktop. OTTER does a pretty good job with transcribing. Though it’s not 100%, I was able to follow and be engaged. If I didn’t have this, I would be completely lost and the online session would be worthless to me. I had tried AVA which wasn’t good at all.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing that workaround. I have tried that as well with Otter and it works fairly well. On screen captions would be much better though. Thanks for the comment.

      • Thank you again for your efforts, Shari. I wonder what is taking them so long. Have you heard of the new Live Transcribe for Apple Iphone? (It is red and white elephant logo). I am truly happy with it.

      • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
        Shari Eberts says:

        Excellent. I am glad you have found a good solution for you. Thanks for sharing the information.

    • Here are more Apple ios speech to text apps

      Speech to text Apps

      For Apple devices

      Active Voice

      AVA

      Dragon

      IHearU2

      Otter notes…not speech to text but records what person says

      Say&go audio notes

      Voice Itt

      Voice to text pro

      Chatable

      ListenAll

      Android device.. Live Transcribe

      Hearing helper

      Appmyear. $9.99

      Microsoft translator

      Early

      Buzz cards

  2. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Yes, agreed! Screen captions are better!!

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad you found something that works well for you! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Can someone provide more info on Live Transcribe for Apple iPhone? I don’t see it on accessibility. Is it an app I must download and if so what is the exact name so I may find it? Thanks,

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Here is a link to the app. I think it just launched this week and costs $49.99 per year to use. I use Otter.ai on iOS which gives you 600 minutes free per month. It is not the same as Google’s Live Transcribe even though they share the same name. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/live-transcribe-voice-to-text/id1471473738

      • This Iphone version has 2 advantages over the Google Live Transcribe (wonder why they copy the same name?):

        a) there is no advertisements interrupting the conversation

        b) it works offline – not as accurate as the online mode but still good – great for communicating with my husband while he is driving on areas with no service and he can’t face me to facilitate lip reading (for obvious reasons).

        Any suggestion on how to encourage the makers of the new app Live Transcribe for Iphone to offer it for free? maybe the basic level?

      • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
        Shari Eberts says:

        I think they chose the same name because Google’s Live Transcribe works so well and they thought people would think it was now available on iOS. Thanks for letting me know about the offline aspect. I have never gotten an ad on the Google Live Transcribe though. It is totally free. I have been using Otter.ai on iOS and it works well for me. It is good to have options so we can all find what works best for each of us.

  4. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Thanks, Shari. Didn’t realize it’s costly. OTTER works just fine but I’ll keep this info for reference. Thanks a bunch.

  5. Also be aware that the Telephone Relay contracts in 14 states, plus Federal employees, have access to Relay Conference Captioning (RCC), which is CART realtime captioning (a live provider) for teleconference and video conference calls – which includes Zoom and other online platforms. For NJ, the information is at http://njrelay.com/relay-conference-captioning-rcc
    The captions are streamed to its own website, but can be integrated onto a split screen by the Zoom presenter – or the user can also scale the caption window to be next to the Zoom window.
    This is FREE to the user or presenter. The states that have this in their Relay contracts are:
    Arizona, Colorado, CT, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, NJ, NC, RI, S Dakota,VT, W VA, Wyoming and Federal employees. Also – on a related solution – I wear headphones (or sound can be streamed to hearing aids or processors as well) that give me direct sound, which makes a difference in these Zoom conferences.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing this information.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      No. The June 6th meeting will have CART sponsored by HLAA.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing the information, but it looks like you have to pay for this service. It also requires a paid Zoom account.

      • Thanks for hosting this site Shari. Lot’s of good info. Streamer is free, but only for the first 30 days, then it costs either $9.99/mo or $99/yr. That’s not a per user fee, that’s for a captioning room you can share with as many people as you want. And it does not require the paid Zoom account, it works fine with the free version.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

  6. I gave up on Zoom. I’ve been using Google Meet since it became free for captions. Works great. At least we have that option, if Zoom does not follow through.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Yes, Google Meet is a good option. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Shari, thanks for working with Zoom on the ASR issue. I’d like to suggest, though, that It might be especially useful to focus on Zoom needing to make its software more accessible to people with hearing loss or other auditory disabilities by providing the ASR at no extra cost, just as Skype has been doing for years and Google Meet just started doing. In other words, instead of focusing on “Free,” our argument should be that Zoom should be making its software fully accessible to everyone.

    Zoom also isn’t accessible on many of its mobile apps even when professional captioning is provided; only a couple of words show up instead of the full line. There’s no explanation about this beforehand. One seems to have to use a desktop or laptop computer to get full access to captioning on the Zoom platform.

    If Zoom isn’t accessible to people with hearing loss, then many entities required by the Rehabilitation Act to make their programs and services accessible really should not be using it. Businesses and non-profit organizations that are covered by the ADA also should want to make their video events fully accessible to the very large percentage of the population with hearing loss. Zoom should want to be fully accessible so that it can publicize its resulting accessibility to government agencies and other large companies. Otherwise, it might start losing some of its share to competitors that do provide ASR.

    I do think that Zoom’s ability to show video and audio for many people is excellent, so I hope that it will improve its accessibility very soon.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing these important points.

  8. Shari — I don’t understand why speakers who know that they are speaking to individuals with hearing loss have to speak so rapidly. They are knowledgeable about hearing loss. They must know that we can’t process what they are saying at the speed they are saying it. Even the best CART reporters can’t keep up with them. I am not persuaded by their saying that this is the way they have always spoken; they have the power to modify their conduct if they want to. I have experienced this problem with the presenters at HLAA webinars and the Zoom conferences HLAA has sponsored recently; of all situations, it shouldn’t happen there!

    I would like to see some publicity directed to asking the folks who are presenting at HLAA activities, such as the upcoming seminars taking place substituting for the HLAA national convention, to pace their oral presentations at a speed that their hard of hearing listeners can process.

    Thanks for your efforts and advocacy.

    Bernie Steinberg

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      These are good points. I will pass your feedback along. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Excellent! Thank you for sharing this great example of advocacy.

  9. I found the link to this blog on the California HLAA newsletter. I am late-deafened, profoundly deaf, wearing a BTE hearing aid in my only good ear (left). I’ve been attending senior education classes since 2002. The classrooms were closed in mid-March in the midst of classes because of the pandemic. Zoom was then adopted so that the classes could continue. Because Zoom didn’t offer free captioning I was forced to drop out. The lighting in the homes from where my classmates participated, their distance from the webcam or smartphone, the lack of clarity with which they spoke all defeated me in understanding what was being said and in lipreading. Using Live Transcribe on my smartphone wasn’t successful because of the poor audio on my computer-connected speakers. I look forward to Zoom providing free captioning (AI) or returning to classes when the pandemic is over.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I am sorry for your challenges with this. You are definitely not alone. Please sign and circulate the petition to help build support. Fingers crossed Zoom will offer these sometime soon. Thanks for your comment.

    • Ask teacher to use Google Meet instead! Changed my life! Free, excellent captions. Shari’s petition is 38,000 (I think) got Google to change their policy and to make the captions FREE! Video quality perfect. Tell people to put light in front of their faces , instead of behind their heads. There are great Youtube videos explaining how to properly light one’s face , during video conferencing.
      Of course, hopefully, one day, Zoom will also offer free captions.

      • Thanks for the information. The group has about 275 members, all retired, meeting in 20 classes. All the computer issues are managed by about five people. Their decision to go with Zoom was made without consultation with the other members so that the classes could resume quickly. It’s unlikely that the members will want to change systems now that they’ve become familiar with Zoom.

  10. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    I ‘allowed’ the microphone but there’s still no sound on Google Meet. I’m awaiting a camera/microphone and hoping that does the trick.

    • Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Make sure you are using the chrome browser. That often helps. Good luck!

    • You just need to turn on microphone. The system prompts you to do that. It works great. Don’t know why you have no sound. Probably need to turn sound on your computer. That’s odd.

  11. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    Yes, I’m using Chrome and as I said, I had allowed the microphone.

  12. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    ya, not sure how but will figure it out.

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