All I Want for Christmas is Zoom (with free captions)

I am proud to continue my advocacy for free ASR captions for people with hearing loss on Zoom. On December 17, 2020, The Washington Post published my oped People with hearing loss shouldn’t have to pay Zoom for captions. Please comment and share to build awareness. When sharing on social media, use the hashtag #CaptionsNow Zoom to let Zoom know we are tired of waiting for free ASR captions on all plans! 

An excerpt from the piece is below.

Captions are Our Ramps

Should wheelchair users pay to use ramps? Of course not, because ramps provide them equal access to buildings and public spaces. They allow wheelchair users to navigate the world successfully and independently. Ramps also create easier access for parents pushing strollers and travelers rolling heavy luggage. Universal design benefits everyone.

So why is Zoom, the most popular video-conferencing company, asking people with hearing loss to pay for the equal access that they need? For those of us with hearing loss, captions are our ramps. But Zoom keeps them out of reach, hidden behind a pay wall. We should not be forced to pay for the feature we require for equal access. Like ramps, captioning is also good universal design, benefiting not only people with hearing issues, but all users. Continue reading on The Washington Post.

There is Some Good News

Zoom seems to be quietly rolling out its excellent ASR captions to its lower cost Pro plan, as well as expanding its Live Transcript beta test to additional users with hearing loss. Contact access@zoom.us for more information. Good luck!

To help with our advocacy, please sign and share the petition: Provide Free Captions for People with Hearing Loss on Video Conferencing Platforms.

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16 thoughts on “All I Want for Christmas is Zoom (with free captions)

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I agree! Much work to be done there too! Thanks for your comment.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for your comment.

  1. The technology is there. Why can’t all Zoom calls have the option for live transcription? Larger enterprises should be concerned that they are not offering this option on their Zoom webinars and meetings for their hearing impaired listeners. I hope Santa delivers!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Me too! Thanks for your comment and for helping to spread the word about this issue.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Yes, these are wonderful! I am in the beta test and the accuracy and speed are very good. Thanks for you comment.

  2. Absolutely yes. ADA needs updating to keep up with technology. Captions are important for non-native speakers as well, since literacy tends to outstrip speech comprehension given the manner in which second languages are usually taught.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Good point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I spoke with Zoom awhile back about this very question and the answer is they are not as large an enterprise as we all think. They are not Google or Microsoft who can easily eat the cost of live ASR on all Google Meet or Skype calls. Zoom has to license the technology from AI Sense (otter.ai) then they have to run it on their own servers. So it’s a question of scaling and cost of scaling. As we all know, Zoom has had to massively scale up in a very short amount of time just to keep up with video call demand and security issues. I’m sure that wasn’t easy but they did manage to do it successfully. In general over the years, Zoom has invested more in accessibility features than any of the other popular video conferencing platforms so they are certainly open to the idea of allowing free ASR to those who need it but how do you propose they decide who gets it enabled in their free account and who doesn’t? Send them your suggestions. Those are the logistics they are weeding through while at the same time trying to continuously roll out new features. It’s easy to think of Zoom as this big rich company because of how well they’ve done financially in 2020 but even with a huge team of the best developers in the world, it takes time to build and roll out new features without breaking anything.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts but I must disagree. Zoom also told me about the capacity issue, but that was nine months ago. If they have capacity and man hours for funny hats and other Snapchat like visuals, they certainly have time to focus on accessibility. A simple audiologist note would be all that is required to verify if a person has hearing loss. Accessibility should not be a nice to have. It should be a mandated part of any product. Zoom’s is no exception.

  4. Yeah they recently gave early access of the integrated auto-captioning feature (“Live Transcript”) to some large customers of theirs, so I agree it’s likely they finally have the capacity now. I think there were some other things slowing them down along the way such as the conflict of human captioner text output vs. machine captioning text output (meaning what if a meeting has both a human captioner and auto-captioning enabled, how do users distinguish whose text they are seeing to be able to turn on/off either one as needed). This is something other platforms like Google Meet and MS Teams never had to worry about since those don’t even offer integrated human captioning. Captioning in breakouts was another kink they had to work out because each breakout generates a totally separate token for security reasons. The issue I understand they are dealing with now is making it so users are in control and can turn on/off Live Transcript regardless of whether the host has enabled it or not. (The way it currently works is the host has to enable Live Transcript at the start of the session in order for other users in the meeting to be able to turn it on/off at will.) In November 2020 I was told their plans for this improvement had been delayed because they had to first make changes to improve the security and scalability of Live Transcript back end. They said optimistically early 2021 but that it was still up in the air. I’m confident they’ll eventually get everything worked out but I agree it sure is frustrating when the accessibility developers take longer while other developer teams push out silly features first.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Personally, I am tired of their excuses — there always seems to be a new one. If you would like to show your support for Free ASR Captions, sign and share the petition. http://chng.it/QH7r4bmm Thank you.

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