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.
To advocate for high-quality captioning standards, you can also write to your congressional representatives or contact the FCC directly.
Readers, how do you define high-quality captioning?
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20 thoughts on “To Create Equal Access, Captions Must Be High-Quality”
I have a CaptionCall phone, last week made a dr appointment and I heard the time was for 11:15, I repeated that and again was told it was for 11:15, then about 30 minutes later I read what the phone said and it showed 11:50!! So i called the dr office and asked what time the appointment was and she told me 11:15! am a bit disappointed with the captions, but do not know who to complain too! Captions are so important but, but, but!
Very frustrating! Please alert CaptionCall so they can provide feedback to the captioner. Thank you for your comment.
Outstanding post! Thanks, Shari for providing these excellent resources.
So glad you found it helpful! Thanks for your comment.
What gets me is Caption Call mangling their own spiel: ‘To erase this message, press 7, to save…’ “Erase” very often comes up as “Racist”!
Oh no! They need to fix that. Please let them know about the issue. Thanks for your comment.
I agree a quality standard should be the way forward. Closed captioning has become my life saver on my hearing loss journey. It does seem that the USA is well ahead of the UK when it comes to closed captioning tech. I was aware of the free telephone captioning service in the USA but unfortunately we don’t have this in the UK. Seems the technology is there but not yet been taken advantage off. Think i will write to my local telecoms provider and ask if they have thought about this.
Good luck! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
At our home, we have been watching “History of Sitcom”. The scrolling captions run across the faces of actors.
Have we ever seen scrolling captions at the BOTTOM of a film?
It is understandable scrolling captions move around on newscasts so as not to overlay the news banners.
However, it is really annoying to watch “History of Sitcom” with scrolling captions overlaying the actor’s faces. The average person may feel on-screen captions at the movies will do the same thing.☹️
That is frustrating. Is there a way to adjust placement? Some cable companies and streaming services allow you to set personal viewing parameters for the captions. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Don’t forget to mention the Global Alliance of Speech-to-Text Captioning (https://speechtotextcaptioning.org/) who has been hard at work since its inception to create just such standards across the industry regardless of method. They have been teaming up with different organizations who have similar objectives.
Thank you for sharing the information but this does not seem to cover ASR captioning. I believe we need standards that apply no matter the delivery method.
It most certainly does! You should give them feedback if their website led you to believe otherwise. (In full transparency I was on the certification committee for a time and ASR always had a seat at the table.) If you check https://speechtotextcaptioning.org/association-documents then download the “Guidelines for Captioning Services” it specifically mentions the different forms of captioning.
That is good news Thanks for the link to the document. It would be great if ASR was also discussed on the home and other top pages of the site.
Who do we contact in Canada? While my hearing loss isn’t as profound as some of you, I depend on the words matching the speaking mouths and it’s extremely frustrating for me if they don’t…I mean….what’s the point…? I depend on them to fill in the gaps what I don’t comprehend…by the time I wait for the caption to hit the screen, the story has jumped ahead on me!
See this website for details on captioning in Canada and where to file a complaint. https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/info_sht/b321.htm Thank you for your question.
Between ASR and CART one difference inherent in the system is that ASR is faster. Even the best CART providers can rarely get the words on the screen within a second or two after they are spoken.
I have noticed that as well. The real magic is where speed and accuracy are both strong. Thank you for sharing your experiences.