We are all facing the pain of isolation while practicing social distancing amid COVID-19. It hurts to feel alone in the face of new challenges and to combat loneliness at a time of uncertainty. While this crisis is difficult, it also gives us the opportunity to rethink old ways of doing things. I wrote this article before the pandemic began, but I think it is valuable to revisit it as we plan for a more inclusive tomorrow on the other side of this crisis.
This post first appeared on Culturico. Reprinted here with their permission.
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.
I thought I had figured out how to live with hearing loss. I wear my hearing devices regularly and employ a handful of assistive listening devices as needed in various situations. I advocate for myself with friends, family and strangers, teaching them to use communication best practices. I utilize lipreading cues and am not shy to try to change the environment to meet my hearing needs whenever possible. I am confident and competent. But then came COVID-19, and a new hurdle entered the field — masks — the latest in a long line of obstacles for people with hearing loss.
Last week’s post was an open letter to video conferencing companies like Zoom and Google, asking them to provide free auto captioning for people with hearing loss during this time of physical distancing. In most cases, auto captioning is available on these platforms, but it is hidden behind a paywall for premium paid accounts. There was so much support from readers, I started a petition on Change.org to capture the response.
The results have been tremendous. As of this writing, 8,000 people have signed the petition, and the number continues to grow. I have begun sharing the petition with the companies. If you have not signed already, will you help me to show more support by signing and sharing the petition? Together we can make change happen!
COVID-19 has brought many inconveniences and frustrations to our daily lives, but there have also been some positive side effects — like bringing the hearing loss community closer together. On Saturday, March 28, 2020, more than 80 members of the hearing loss community met on a virtual Zoom call. The group discussed ideas for coping with the burden of social isolation, described our favorite technology hacks for communicating, and shared our stories of illness and recovery. We provided one another the support, understanding and camaraderie that we all are seeking at this time of social distancing.