Closed Captioning for Accessibility in Online Meetings

August 25, 2020

Submitted by Lee Vorderer

As our communities continue to practice social distancing, more and more of our connections with one another happen over computers.  There is much about this to celebrate – at least we all have ways for meetings to occur; churches can offer Sunday services; and the day-to-day life keeps happening.

A shortfall of using this meeting software (something that most people don’t notice) is that it doesn’t really enable people who have hearing problems to take part.  Since these meeting platforms often don’t provide really simultaneous faces talking and sound, even ‘hearing helps’ like lip reading can’t work.

There is a lot to dislike about closed captioning, too.  The automatic kind (like on YouTube) makes errors, and can’t handle other languages or, sometimes, the technical terms that are part of meetings.  But at about 80% accuracy, YouTube does a good enough job for most people’s needs.

Software like Google Meet offers automatic closed captioning that does a reasonable job of capturing what people at meetings say.  For it to work well, we all need to learn to stop talking over one another, but we should be learning to listen and THEN SPEAK anyway.

I know that we all have pressures from lots of different places to hold these meetings to get our work. It’s important that we all realize that every time we use a meeting software that doesn’t offer simultaneous closed captioning, we’re essentially saying to people with hearing problems that we don’t care if they participate.

So here’s an idea:  all of you who use meeting software of some sort, look and see if automatic closed captioning is available.  If it is, email [email protected] and identify that software so maybe more of us could think about using it for our meetings.

If the meeting software you use excludes people with hearing loss from participating fully, think about what you might do to try to fix this problem.

We’re a society that is trying its best to function in this difficult time; let’s try to let everyone take part in trying their best.

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