By Kimberly Shea, CRC
The vision of Breaking Barriers Captioning is simple: If we, as a society, make accessibility a priority, together we further the progression of inclusion.
The Breaking Barriers team has a heart and a voice for advocacy, and it’s time we approach the need for equal access from a different perspective. Every great thing begins with vision, the belief that something can be done better, be done differently. We must focus on education and awareness. It is imperative that we reach out to the communities whose equal access needs are not being met. As we work closely with consumers, we are able to highlight their accessibility accommodation options and the differences in the quality of those options. In doing so, we equip entire communities across the board with the knowledge and power to more effectively advocate for themselves.
By teaching the public about accessibility and how it changes millions of lives every day, people will begin to really grasp the importance, necessity, and gravity of accommodations.
That knowledge creates the ripple that leads to a shift in mindset where people begin to approach things from the perspective of “How can I help?” When that shift happens, Universal Design and accessibility accommodation solutions become a natural priority where inclusion and equal access are mandatory parts of the planning process for any event.
If event planners, for example, keep equal access in mind from the beginning, they’re not only planning an event but an experience that can be shared by all.
They are planning an event that brings everyone into the fold and levels the playing field. It increases opportunity for those pacing on the outskirts of topics, group discussions, and social participation. Planning guest speakers, putting together slide presentations, securing an audio/visual crew, and so on, what is the purpose of any of those things if it doesn’t reach the people it was intended for? Equal access is what makes those things accessible to ALL participants.
In an academic setting, the institution’s goal is to impart knowledge and engage students.
That engagements lead to experiences that broaden their perspectives which prepares them for a world outside the box. What good is that effort if many are left excluded and uninspired? Equal access opens doors for inspiration and opportunity.
From a humanity standpoint, emotions experienced during life’s events bring us together.
When everyone has equal access to the same content and experience – whether that involves garnering knowledge on the topic at hand, understanding a joke along with everyone else and sharing in that laughter, being moved by an emotional tug on one’s heartstring, or even recognizing the severity of a situation and having to follow life-saving instructions – those experiences connect us.
Captioning is a spoken-word medium for the communities of the deaf and hard of hearing — that’s what most people know — but its value extends to those living with auditory processing disorder, people beginning to learn the English language, notetakers, live tweeters, or even in simple cases of poor sound environment.
Live captioning is one of the most important examples of accessibility accommodations. It should always be a top priority because it covers equal access from multiple fronts. Captioning for tech conferences, STEM conferences, medical events, webinars, business meetings, special events, and academic settings ranging from the classroom to graduation ceremonies improves experience and engagement.
I captioned a community meeting held for the purpose of discussing needs surrounding independent living, and individuals with different disabilities spoke about their everyday accessibility challenges.
A gentleman in attendance pointed out that for the public without a disability, accommodations very often made their lives easier; but for those with disabilities, it made living life possible. For example, curb cuts were designed for wheelchair accessibility. Turns out they benefit people who use canes, people with temporary injuries, moms with strollers, and so on. What’s the point? The accommodation ended up being helpful to a much larger population than what it was originally designed for.
Captioners are often more comfortable behind the scenes.
That’s where we spend most of our time. It can be a challenge to step out from behind the curtain to bring awareness about an issue and address things that need improvement. However, we specialize in the technical aspect of captioning as an accommodation, and demonstrating the highest quality is our expertise. Stepping out from behind the curtain is our responsibility.
Everyone has the basic human right to quality equal access for distributed content during live, in-person public forums or on-air content. That should never be optional.