When did “good enough” become the standard? This is the result of people without disabilities determining what those with disabilities deserve.
And that has never been okay; it will never be okay.
So you think you have successfully transitioned your courses to a virtual learning way of life and settled in for the long haul.
Good! Go ahead, stand up. Release a cleansing sigh as you mark that task off your to-do list. Stretch a bit. That’s good, isn’t it? Now, go ahead and smile. Enjoy that feeling of success. Go on and grab that coffee mug and take a nice stroll to the kitchen for a refill and a snac — WHACK!
You slam face first into the hallway door left open by one of your fellow isolees, and before you know what’s happening, you trip over the family pets that have been following you around for seven days because they can’t figure out why you’re there in the first place. You fall backward. We are all watching as you do the slow-motion, invisible rope climb in an attempt to latch onto anything — absolutely anything — that will save you from landing on a pet, a roaming toddler, or flat on your back with a Lego piercing your spine.
Freeze frame that image. What a beautiful start to the day!
Or it could be the universe saying, Ummm, helllllo? You’re doinnnng it wronnnng.
Here we are, smack dab in the middle of chaos and transition, and once again, communities with disabilities are being left behind. The effort to ensure that inclusion is a priority in our daily lives has required diligence, consistency, and steadfast determination by those in communities of disabilities and the people who advocate alongside them.
Every single day people with disabilities struggle with getting access to communications. Since COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders across the country, those scenarios have multiplied enormously. Those with disabilities are either forgotten entirely or saddled with poor-quality options to access important content related to education, business, and news.
It is imperative; it is not optional
All online curriculum needs to include accurate, dependable, and high-quality live captioning, also called CART (Communications Access Realtime Translation), by professionals trained to provide this service. It serves all involved, students and parent-coaches, those with and without disabilities. It is not a question of, “Should we have captioning?” It is the resounding question, “How do we provide captioning to ensure our content is accessible to all?”
The various virtual meeting platforms being used across the country are equipped to easily integrate a live captioner’s services. Captioner-owned CART firms handle all the details for you. After all, they specialize in ensuring consumers receive the high-quality captioning that meets the standards required under federal law.
Disabilities & Inclusion: An Afterthought?
Institutions’ resources were rapidly stretched thin as they rushed to transition to virtual learning modules, and in that process, many of them completely overlooked the needs of students with disclosed and undisclosed disabilities. When it comes to virtual learning, it is imperative to remember that accessibility is not just about providing accommodations to fit the IEP (Individualized Education Program) and 504 plans of the students that already have them for the on-site classroom setting; it’s about thinking outside the box and recognizing the learning challenges of all students in different scenarios coupled with the adults assisting them and any disabilities that anyone involved may have.
Has anyone stopped to think about those parents that may have disabilities and are now responsible for assisting their children in their education? How can they do that with zero or limited access to content? 504 plans do not extend to also providing accommodations to parent-coaches, but that does not make them any less vital in these unprecedented times.
For years, institutions and faculty have encouraged more parental involvement in the education of their children. Regardless of how and why it happened, it has, in fact, happened. Now they are involved, and the institutions have failed some parents who are now responsible for coaching their children in this online curriculum. Parents with disabilities are being thrown into the teaching role without the vital tools needed to be successful in assisting in their children’s education.
As a mother who spent two years in the role of “parental-coach,” I’m here to tell you that there are challenges to online learning that are not being considered. The learning environment for students has changed drastically, and many parents are dropped into roles they did not train for, did not prepare for, and schools have limited access to their curriculum by failing to prioritize accessibility on multiple fronts.
One Accessibility Accommodation Serving Multiple Communities
Live captioning accommodates not only the communities of the deaf and hard of hearing but also those with auditory processing disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, English language learners, those who speak English as a second language, and more. It also aids those without disabilities in cases of noise disruption, poor-sound environments, and in scenarios where content must be viewed in silence. It is proven that captioning reinforces content retention and improves reading levels in all ages, early youth to adulthood, and countries with the highest reading scores are the same countries with the highest numbers of captioning consumers.
Accessibility as defined by The Office for Civil Rights
The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education defines accessibility: “when a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.”
Choose captioner-owned CART companies and human captioners when accuracy is vital and content retention is mandatory.
Every day in education, business, news, and even entertainment, those with disabilities are being forced to endure inadequate accessibility options based on common mistakes.
- the assumption that automated speech recognition (ASR) is sufficient
- attempting to secure live captioning services through third-party vendors that are not trained to provide live captioning, or CART, as an accommodation and not only lack the technical knowledge regarding the proper setup requirements for a successful event, but they lack the industry knowledge to screen and qualify writers to ensure appropriate skill level.
Human stenotype writers and ASR, both have a place in accessibility but they are not interchangeable.
Human-generated, stenotype captions have always been the standard in educational settings because — reality check — it’s a student’s education we are talking about. There is more to live captioning than “getting every word.” There are ease-of-reading decisions that need to be made in the moment to maintain a reading flow that avoids distractions and is conducive to information retention, and those decisions can only be made by a human with the proper knowledge, skill, and training.
Human Captioner versus ASR
There is an accessibility lane for ASR in informal, everyday scenarios, but this is NOT the place for autocaptions with accuracy rates in the 70-80% range (and that’s being generous), inaccurate punctuation, no speaker identifications, no ability to make instantaneous corrections, and zero decision-making capabilities. There is no ASR software capable of providing the accuracy, quality, and decision making that matches a stenographer, regardless of flashy sales pitches with trumped-up claims of accuracy and ability.
It should also be noted that captions less than 98.5% are useless to consumers, and the thought that “it’s better than nothing” is not only a falsehood, it is oftentimes offensive to communities with disabilities.
Example of stenographer versus ASR
Reasons to Choose a Captioner-owned CART firm
Firms owned by experienced, professional captioners that are actively involved in the industry, understand the gravity of their responsibility in providing the service. They have first-hand knowledge of how to staff the event and what equipment is necessary for the setting. This gives you the opportunity to avoid the pitfalls that very often result in complete caption fails.
Accessibility specialists, those claiming to be experts in the field, can advise you on the importance of captioning and the statistics on why it is a vital resource, but they cannot guarantee quality because they do not understand CART on the “production” level. They understand it on the “consumer” level and as a commodity that they put a whimsical and often inaccurate dollar sign on.
What Are You Doing?
People are making efforts to carry on with a new normal, and schools with responsible leadership spent countless hours preparing to take their communications online and, in that process, made inclusion and accessibility a priority, as it should be, remembering that not everyone has the same abilities in accessing and processing communication and not everyone learns in the same way.
Don’t let “inclusion” and “accessibility” be words alone. What are you, as an educating body, truly doing to represent a culture of inclusion? Where are your priorities? Has it become second nature for those in your organization to consider accessibility and inclusion for their curriculum and events?
Breaking Barriers Captioning is captioner-owned by one of the founding members of Global Alliance of Speech-to-Text Captioning and managed by experienced captioners that are advocates for the captioning profession and for quality accessibility accommodations. How can we help?