As a person with hearing loss, I spend a lot of time thinking about captions. This is understandable because captions are my critical life-line to many forms of communication. I often wonder:
Are captions provided on this upcoming webinar?
Do I need captions for this important phone call?
Will the caption readers at the movies work this time?
How can I get captions to show up on my husband’s forehead? (I wish!?)
Captions are incredibly helpful, but only if they are high-quality — meaning that they are accurate and well synchronized with the content I am trying to understand. Otherwise, they may do more harm than good. Captioning standards are needed.
High-Quality Captions Benefit Everyone
More than 100 empirical studies demonstrate that captioned content benefits everyone, hearing loss or not. These studies show that captions improve video comprehension as measured by higher rates of recalling facts, drawing inferences, defining words, and summarizing main ideas. People also spend more time paying attention to captioned content. And captions make it easier to watch on mute, which is how many people consume videos on social media.
All this is true, but only if the captions are high-quality. Unfortunately, how high-quality is defined is often unclear. Clearer standards are needed.
Standards for Quality Captioning Needed
Standards for quality captioning are needed across all forms of media and delivery channels. All video content posted on websites and social media should have high quality captions available. As should all video conference calls and webinars. The same is true for in-person meetings, lectures and entertainment. These captions must be accurate and well-synced with the video.
Another important place is captioned telephone service. In the United States, captioned telephone service is provided free of charge to people with hearing loss under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have a captioned telephone, as do nearly 500,000 other Americas with hearing loss.
The service is only as good as the accuracy and timeliness of its captions. Yet quality standards have not been established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the government body charged with overseeing captioned telephone service.
The Clear2Connect Coalition is actively advocating for standards to be set and applied to all captioned telephone service independent of the delivery method — either by trained human captioner (CART), automatic speech recognition (ASR), or a combination of the two.
Watch their video below to learn more about captioned telephone service.
CART vs ASR
There is often debate about the quality differences between captioning provided by CART versus ASR, but I sometimes think that misses the point. Why should we care how the captions are generated? Isn’t it more important that they are accurate and timely?
Today, human captioners are better suited to highly technical or jargon-filled presentations, but ASR is likely to catch up over time, especially if there was a way to pre-populate the algorithm with challenging terminology ahead of time.
Rather than debate the mode of delivery, perhaps we can come together as a community to advocate for high-quality standards instead — standards that would be applied to all delivery methods. The poor quality operators — both human and ASR — would soon fall to the wayside, while the highest quality providers of both types would move to the forefront. Everyone would benefit.
How Can You Help?
Advocacy is hard work, but we can all contribute. When we advocate for ourselves, by requesting captioning at meetings, on websites and elsewhere, we are not only exercising our rights, we are educating others about the importance of providing captioning and other accommodations.
Reach out to companies and organizations to hold them accountable for captioning snafus. Most captioning problems in the United States can be reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) using this form.
Readers, how do you define high-quality captioning?