Closed-Device Captioning

Mirabai Knight, a.k.a. StenoKnight, is a fabulous CART writer in New York and an activist in the most positive sense for open captions. At a recent concert at the NY Public Library, she experimented with what she calls closed-device captioning, in which captions are delivered over the Internet to cell phones. She describes the upsides and downsides in her blog, excerpted here.

On the 12th and 13th I captioned the annual Holiday Songbook for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was very cool; composers from all over the city were invited to submit new holiday music they’d written, for something like 40 songs in total over the two days. I was able to get some of the song lyrics in advance, and during tech runthroughs I was able to transcribe the rest of them so that when they were actually performed I could send them smoothly line by line instead of having to CART them live. The Library decided to try an experimental closed captioning system, where I sat up in the tech booth and sent the captions over the internet, while audience members went to the caption webpage on their phones and followed along that way. It went quite well, though this method certainly has its pros and cons. On the plus side:

* The event organizers were more comfortable with captioning being opt-in rather than having it visible to everybody.

* Several people — including people of a somewhat older generation — had their phones with them and were able to access the captions without any difficulty.

* This demonstration proved that captions can happen almost anywhere, even when a projector and screen are not available.

Of course, there are a few downsides to closed device-bound captioning over universal open captioning. Namely:

* The many glowing screens of patrons’ phones can arguably be as distracting as the one glowing screen used in open captioning. Additionally, some people don’t understand why the captioning is there, so they might assume patrons viewing captions on their phones are actually being rude and texting their friends, or even that they’re pirating the concert.

* Not everybody with hearing loss who might be helped by the captions identifies that way; it takes an average of five years for someone with hearing loss to acknowledge the issue publicly or sometimes even to themselves. Some people might not even know that they have hearing loss, and open captioning can be a way of helping them realize how much they’ve been missing.

* Some people who could have taken advantage of the captions might not have had web-enabled phones, or might have been too intimidated by the prospect of navigating to a website on their phones.

* Open captions tend to be larger and more visible than hand-held device captions, which can often be a little too small to read comfortably. In addition, open captions tend to be in the same plane as the performer, while device captions require rapid adjustment between near vision and far vision as the patron looks from the performer to the caption screen and back, which can sometimes cause eyestrain and detract from the immersiveness of the experience.

* Closed device captioning only works when there’s a reliable wireless internet connection or when people have fairly high-speed data plans on their phones.

So I obviously try to promote open captioning whenever possible, but it was cool to show the potential of closed device captioning, and I’m very glad that several patrons took advantage of it.

One response to this post.

  1. This short report is quite important. Many of us cannot wait to try the handheld real time speech-to-text (captioning) in many places! Some of us do not have the newer mobiles/cellphones yet, and as soon as we do, you bet we want to try this. Technology is advancing, and as it opens ways for inclusion of millions of us with hearing and language differences, it’s great.
    At the same time, as Mirabai notes, a screen for all in the audience is wonderful, not only for those who “request” it for equal communication access, but also for many more in any audience over 20 people about, worldwide. There will be some with small hearing differences, some with larger hearing needs than they may realize, and others who will appreciate the benefit of captions for parts of the presentation, since almost everyone has some difficulty catching every single word, if there are different presenters, different voices, etc.
    Thanks Bill and Mirabai for this valuable “research”!
    Lauren – text is our language, it speaks to us all; join the ccac, free membership; all volunteers aiming for inclusion of quality captioning universally


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