(A version of this post was first published on https://tinachildress.wordpress.com/ )
In an effort to stop the exponential growth of COVID-19, we’re seeing daily announcements about schools and higher-ed institutions deciding to close or move coursework to an online format. For students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, it is important that educators and IT staff plan for accessibility if the online classes require listening to audio in order to participate.
We are seeing similar measures from companies and businesses putting travel bans into place and requiring employees to telecommute. Flights and larger events are being canceled and workers are being asked to stay and work from home.
Who is responsible for providing accommodations?
For employees in business with more than 15 employees, your rights are covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. More information can be found at https://www.nad.org/resources/employment-and-vocational-rehabilitation/discrimination-and-reasonable-accommodations/.
Options for students in the K-12 setting
This resource, created by Sarah Kiefer, from the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education has FANTASTIC information and guidelines on how to provide accommodations and accessibility to your students.
The remainder of this blog post will mostly pertain to high school, college/university and work settings.
Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) Services
Best case scenario, captioning is provided by a professional “live captioner” who can, with high-accuracy, caption synchronously with the speaker. CART allows for “live captioning” of audio events with the CART provider as the aforementioned “live captioner.” If you desire CART services as an accommodation, contact your employer or institution so they may start the process of securing one for you.
Live captioners can be either on-site or they can provide captioning remotely (or off-site). In the latter situation, the talker would need to wear a remote microphone (often Bluetooth) that connects to a computer to provide an audiofeed to the live captioner off-site via the internet. The captioned content would then be transmitted back to the student on their display device.
The advantages of having a live captioner:
- If the audio signal is poor, they can fill in the gaps with contextual, visual and situational cues
- They will be aware of names, proper nouns and technical vocabulary if materials are provided to them ahead of time
- They can look at visual materials (e.g., presentation slides, handouts, programs) for support
- They can ask for clarification if someone is soft-spoken, not talking into the microphone or multiple people are talking simultaneously
- They often arrive early to ensure adequate connections to projectors, the internet, etc. as they set up their equipment and can let others know if there are connection problems
If CART is not an available option, then “automated captions” can provide some assistance. Automated captions have improved greatly in the past few years in terms of accuracy, speed and integration with other programs and apps. They will continue to improve with increased time and exposure to more words; however, they do not have the same level of accuracy that a live captioner can provide. There are some programs/apps that have decent speed (i.e., insignificant delay) but they are not as accurate as a live captioner.
The quality of the automated captioning is HEAVILY dependent on the audibility and quality of the sound (the input) and can be affected by:
- Rate of speech
- Background noise
- Distance from the talker to the microphone
The “success criteria” for optimal auto-captioning input includes:
- Each speaker has their own microphone
- One speaker speaks at a time
- Background noise is minimized (be at home vs. a coffeehouse!)
The next step is determining which platform is available and compatible with the captioning features needed by students and employees.
Embedded caption options
The platforms/apps in the table below all have embedded captions into their program/app which means the user can view a lesson led by a teacher or participate in a group meeting while watching the captions in the same window.
Non-embedded caption options
ANY platform can use the services of a live captioner via a 3rd party captioning service. Captions are then displayed in a separate browser window. Individuals can either resize the captioning window compared to the videoconferencing window or they can view the captions on a separate device or monitor.
Designated teleconference captioning by dialing into a phone number
Specific states have a contract with Sprint to provide conference captioning when the audio input is via a phone number. You can request captioning via Sprint Teleconference Captioning (STC) if are in AZ, CO, CT, FL, HI, ME, MO, NJ, NC, RI, SD, VT, WV or WY. In addition, federal employees can also access teleconference captioning via Relay Conference Captioning.
Using captioned phone services
If there is an option for an individual with normal hearing to dial into a phone number (e.g., to find out that day’s homework assignment, participate in a conference call), there needs to be an accessible option for your student/employee who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing. This can be accomplished through the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) which is a free captioned phone service available in the U.S. This is NOT the same as having your videoconference / webinar / instructional lesson captioned by a live captioner.
CapTel, CaptionCall and ClearCaptions have stand-alone captioned telephones that sit on your desk. Products such as WebCapTel also have apps that can be viewed on portable devices as well as your computer. InnoCaption can be used to caption calls on a cellphone.
- These captioning services are not permitted if you’re communicating with someone in the same room – only if you’re dialing in from a different location.
- The captioning text may look different if you’re used to seeing captions normally provided for a conference as opposed to a telephone call.
There are also speech-to-text (STT) apps that use automated captions and may be used for access in one-on-one conversations or small groups in case of necessity. Some are free and some have a cost.
The same limitations noted for the effectiveness of automated captions used with videoconferencing applications would also apply to these STT apps. In addition, STT apps pull language from the most commonly searched words on the internet, so in some cases, STT apps will insert an inappropriate word leaving the individual who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing unsure of the conveyed content.
This technology should be considered as a backup when the provided captions stop working as it would not be an adequate source of access in most situations.
I’ve created a separate resource (http://bit.ly/SpeechToTextOptions) discussing the different STT apps and features. You can use an STT app on your phone or tablet, turn up your speakers so that captions can be generated, separate from the device where you’re viewing your audio/video content. The resource above also has directions on how to connect with a remote microphone to improve audio input so that the captions are more accurate..
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
Another tool used by educators is an LMS platform. Here you can create assignments, grade assignments, take attendance, collaborate, share content and a variety of other functions. Below are some of the most popular platforms and resources for making the audio content accessible.
This information was generated by 3PlayMedia, a provider of live and post-production captions. It discusses how to add captions or integrate captions across a variety of media.
This spreadsheet lists a variety of post-secondary institutions and their Remote Teaching Resources.
This resource from the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes has fantastic information for educators as they transition to online teaching.
DeafTEC, part of National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has useful tips in designing your curriculum so that it’s accessible.
This is a unique time. We are all being affected both directly and indirectly by schools, institutions and businesses switching to an online format. Resources will be taxed, including the bandwidth of internet connections as more and more people will be going online. There are also families/individuals that do not have access to technology or internet connections that many of us take for granted. For individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, we need to be intentional and mindful and prepared for providing them with equal access.