As virtual events become more popular, there is a growing demand to make these webcasts accessible to deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers.
One way to do so is to use live captioning. Live captioning is the process of converting audio into captioned text. This is performed by a human captioner, either on-site or remotely (which is increasingly the scenario).
Even before the pandemic, live captioning was primarily done remotely. Put simply, the captioner receives an audio feed that they then type out using a special stenotype machine or voice writing. This typed-out text is then displayed inside a box (usually) on monitors and screens.
Caption-providing companies work with their own tools, methods, and content management systems, and keyboard shortcuts are developed for this purpose.
Each captioner is trained in using the company’s workflow and software, which helps them hit both accuracy and speed in capturing the audio in text form. Professional captioning is usually more than 95% accurate.
Live captions are supported on most media platforms and video players like YouTube, Facebook, etc. Joining these players are also virtual events platforms like PheedLoop, Balloon, and Kaltura, and virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Cisco WebEx.
What are Live Captions?
To understand how they are beneficial to online events, we first need to understand what it actually is. Did you know that there are two types of captions? Open captions and Closed Captions. You will have noticed the CC option on your television or YouTube. These are Closed Captions that are turned on or off at the will of a user.
Open Captions are permanently superimposed or burned onto the video and are used for some pre-recorded content. Live captioning is mostly Closed Captions that are typed out in real-time by captioners.
Live captioning, because it is powered by human captioners, avoids the pitfall of imprecision that you encounter with AI speech recognition systems. Chances are you will have seen at least one such instance on YouTube, for example, and chuckled to yourself. This is the key difference between captioning by humans and captioning by automation (Automatic Speech Recognition or ASR).
Accuracy v/s possible imprecision. This puts live captioning head and shoulders above automated captioning, as actual humans do the listening. Live captions are always of high quality. AI tools usually fall short due to issues ranging from audio fidelity, speaker accents, and speakers talking over each other.
These systems are a helpful aid in the world of captioning in terms of saving time and effort, but ASR may fall short on the accuracy parameter. Score one for human captioners.
How do Live Captions work?
During the broadcast or live-streaming of your virtual event, captions appear just a few seconds after the words have been spoken onscreen. A captioner listens to the audio and generates the spoken text either using a stenotype machine or voice writing.
The captions are then processed and delivered to either a web page, mobile device, or a site where an event is being viewed. All of this happens in the ether, and voila! Technology has vastly advanced to improve the latency between video and text to as little as a few seconds.
Live captions are the secret sauce to ensuring the success of your virtual event. Virtual events with accessible videos are delivered in a way that ensures maximum participation from the audience.
For example, if you are not actively listening to the audio on your phone or computer or are interrupted during the course of the event, you can still get the full picture by just reading the captions. You can scroll back to read the captions for the portion of the event you inadvertently missed or read it in its entirety.
Why you need live captions
The simple act of transcribing the spoken words of your event will dramatically improve your audience’s comprehension. It’s not just that they command your audience’s attention; they can be turned on and off at your discretion.
Captions should be innocuous, so they don’t clutter your viewing experience. Therefore web design is a critical component of these captions. They add to the viewing experience, not take away from it. Here are some tangible benefits that live captions can have on your online events.
Audiences that are deaf and hard-of-hearing benefit hugely from live captions as they get full context into an event from reading the captions, both in real-time and post-event. Simply put, live captions will help lead to a better understanding of your content and boost audience engagement.
There is no comparison between in-person audiences and virtual audiences in terms of size. Logging in to virtual events from the comfort of home has made hosting events online a great way for businesses to stay engaged with employees and customers worldwide.
Some caption providers also offer the ability to translate live captions into multiple languages, thus opening meeting participation to a global audience.
This has made non-native English speakers and non-English speakers also become comfortable with conferencing online, as they can consume the content in their preferred languages.
3. The human touch
The captioning workforce is made up of experienced professionals. These captioners are trained in, and attuned to, nuances in a spoken language like nuance, pronunciation, inflection, context, etc.
With a diverse workforce that can perceive and understand linguistic nuances in multiple languages, captioners have a unique advantage over automatic speech recognition.
4. Minimal latency
Technological advancement ensures captions are displayed in real-time with a negligible time lag, so it doesn’t disrupt either the event or audience comprehension.
Caption providers offer simple widgets that are customized to each individual event. These widgets only need to be added on or plugged into your event page for live captions to show up on your event. The integration happens seamlessly, with captioners and event monitors working alongside from the captioning side to ensure that your event’s message is captured in text form authentically.