Thursday, May 15, 2014

Setting up good audio from a group luncheon for remote CART

Recently, I was asked for advice about how to deal with a particularly challenging listening situation. I thought I'd share my thinking publicly and to see if anyone might be able to offer additional suggestions. Here's the situation: A man with profound hearing loss who functions at a very high level professionally would like to be able to participate in weekly lunch gatherings with 11 friends. They use a long table in a quiet room. He is willing to pay for remote CART (Computer Assisted Realtime Translation), which could presumably be displayed on a smartphone, tablet, or other wireless device. The main question is: how could the CART writer obtain access to the conversation without a complex and intrusive microphone set-up? Such group conversations are among the most challenging situations for oral people with hearing loss. Due to numerous factors involved, which I'll describe below, I don't think there is an easy, elegant solution available at this time, although I do see some strategies to make this work. Ideally, it needs to be fairly easy for everyone to participate in the group conversation, so it would be ideal for the microphone(s) required by the remote CART provider to be close enough for people to speak into. A remote CART provider typically cannot see who is speaking and will depend greatly on the quality of the microphone(s) and of the clarity of the audio signal going into the microphone(s). When human speakers are far away from a single microphone, the mike generally cannot capture their speech well enough. Even a room that might be described as quiet generally still has some reverberation and background noise in it, and those factors will reduce the critical distance of the microphone within which the microphone can capture sound well. A single omnidirectional microphone, even if it is a pressure zone "conference" microphone, will either pick up too much background noise or will not be able to capture distant speech sounds well. (I have used remote CART providers in different situations, and I've personally seen the CART output fail when the CART provider cannot hear clearly enough due to people being too far away from the mike, even when two pressure zone microphones were used.) Another factor to consider is that typically, at a long table used for a meal, there are frequently several conversations happening at least some of the time. A static microphone system designed to pick up everyone's voices is probably not going to provide clear enough audio for a CART provider to work with. The user of the CART will thus need to determine who he wants to be transcribed, and only the sound of the desired speaker should be sent through to the CART provider. When everyone is sitting down eating lunch, however, it would be difficult for him to control directly whose voice is getting transmitted to the CART provider. One option might be to ask someone outside of the group, like a relative or friend of the user, to be a dedicated communication facilitator whose function is to bring a microphone to the person whose speech needs to be transcribed. Another possibility might be for various members of the group to be asked to listen to the sound being captured by the mike(s), using an assistive listening system with multiple receivers or an audio loop system, so that they can help bring a microphone to the desired speaker and ensure the quality of the audio. (Since hearing loss starts to become very common among men as they age, some members of the group may personally benefit from using an assistive listening system anyway. However, all users of the system would be listening to the same conversation.) Let's look further at how the primary person with hearing loss could best be situated at the table. A person who cannot hear well generally benefits from using other strategies to gather as much information as possible about what is going on in the environment, like seeing who is talking and seeing who is coming into the room. I think it's generally more practical for someone who is functionally deaf to sit at one end of a rectangular table (when that is what's being used) so that he can see everyone within his line of sight and then see more quickly who is talking. With a total of 12 people at the table, five people would be sitting on each long side. The CART user might control one (directional) microphone himself but it could be possible to set up one other microphone with a long cable (or connected to an extension cable) that might be located near the other end of the table. Ideally, the microphones would have an easy-to-operate push-button switch so that undesired sound isn't being transmitted. If the primary user with hearing loss still has some residual hearing, I would recommend that he be equipped to monitor the sound as it is sent to the remote CART provider to ensure the best signal is coming through so that he can quickly make adjustments. The enlisted communication facilitator(s) also need(s) to monitor the quality of the audio signal to make sure that the CART provider can hear well enough to perform the transcription. Then, a splitter from the microphone system can be used to send the signal to both an assistive listening system for the local users and to the microphone or line input jack of the wireless device that is relaying the sound to the remote CART provider. The more that people who are present in the conversation can directly perceive the quality of sound that is going to the CART provider (or the person with hearing loss), the better empowered they will be to troubleshoot any audio problems quickly and effectively. If it's possible to facilitate the participation of a person with hearing loss in a group conversation that feels significant to that person, I believe it's worth it to work these things out. The easier it is for everyone to use the microphone system, the more successful this will be. I would recommend trying out a microphone setup, perhaps at a convenient location such as the primary user's home, and working out the kinks in stages *before* trying to work with the CART provider. Once the system works out for the local people, check whether a remote listener can hear through the microphone setup via a microphone or line input on the Internet-enabled computer, and make sure everything is working well. (Note: the computer needs to be set up properly so that any built-in microphone on the computer is *not* active. Only the external microphone system should be sending through sound via the computer.) In the past, I knew of some assistive listening systems that had had built-in microphone mixing (such as a Multi-Talker system from, but to my knowledge, they are no longer being produced. If anyone reading this blog knows of microphone or assistive listening solutions that would be useful for a situation like this, please share what you know! And/or if you have other thoughts about what might work, please share those as well. (In the future, video glasses like Google Glasses could be useful for this purpose. The primary user could wear the glasses and send video the CART provider, and could also read the captions on the glasses. Google Glasses are not yet available to the general public, however.) (Copyrighted by Dana Mulvany)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

PBS now offering online captions for complete fall season videos?

Yesterday, I happened to discover that had started to provide closed captions for Masterpiece Theater earlier this fall season. I found this out on my own after learning on that "Return to Cranford" had been put online; I went to the site, clicked on the video, and was first presented with an uncaptioned video (an ad). When the Masterpiece Theater video started playing, I noticed that there was a "CC" option in the player (after bringing my cursor into the area of the video), and then clicked on it to turn on the CC. (It's necessary to bring the video back to the beginning in order to catch all the dialog.)

(I've learned since this discovery that PBS hadn't apparently made the captioning work for Internet Explorer yet. I was using the free Google Chrome browser. I would expect PBS to make the captions work with all browsers, however.)

Many other videos are available with captions at other web sites, too. began providing English subtitles for every single one of its videos years ago (depending on availability, volunteers then translate the subtitles into other languages). was perhaps the first non-television web site to announce that they would start captioning their videos. (New CNET videos can take a couple of days to get captioned.) offers captions for virtually all dramas and comedies from ABC, NBC and Fox and some series from pay TV networks. started offering captions on its videos earlier this year (2011). quietly started offering a combination of subtitles/captions and an interactive transcript without any fanfare or a press release. (, a hosting source for videos from amateurs as well as many businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational facilities, hosts numerous eclectic videos with captions, though some videos can be found with subtitles or lyrics imprinted onto the video instead. Since many people have put the lyrics onto videos of popular songs, YouTube can be a great way for people with hearing loss to finally understand the lyrics to those songs and how they are sung.)

The U.S. 21st Century Video and Communications Accessibility Act, signed into law in 2010, will require all U.S. television programs that were originally captioned and which are displayed online to be provided with captions. Thus it can be expected that more and more U.S. web sites will start providing captions for their online videos very soon. Soon, if we've missed the broadcast of a television program, we'll be able to catch up with that television program if it's provided online!

If you've found other sources of captioned or subtitled videos, please comment on those sources and share the URLs with us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Amusing Speech-to-Text Errors

I've decided to create a new page on Facebook called, "Amusing Speech-to-Text Errors."  It'll be an easy place for Facebook users to share the occasional very funny gaffe they see from captioning, subtitles, relay services or speech-recognition technology used in services like Google Voice.

The location of the page is at this location:

Please click "Like" on the page there so you can see status updates from that page.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Captionfish beginning to show many more captioned movies

With many thanks to the sustained advocacy and legal work done by John Waldo of Washington CAP, many, many more movie theaters in the USA are now providing captioned movies. is beginning to show more captioned movies now which use the CaptiView closed captioning technology.  If you benefit from captioning, be sure to check before making plans to see a movie!  (You might also check the movie theater's own web site to doublecheck whether a movie is available with captions or subtitles.)

For more information about this development, please see:


Many thanks to Chris Sano of Captionfish for working so hard to make it possible for us to find these movies!   

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CBS finally provides closed captions for online episodes!

Some time ago, I had heard that CBS was planning to provide closed captions for its online episodes first shown on television.  Today, I checked the most recent episode of "The Good Wife" because my TiVo hadn't recorded the last episode properly, and found that there were captions available!  A Google search found no mention of CBS providing this feature, and it's not announced anywhere I can find on the CBS web site, so it's well-hidden.

( has been showing many captioned episodes for shows from other networks (ABC, Fox, NBC, and some premium networks), but CBS had been quite late to the game.  PBS has been quite slow as well, too.  I just checked whether the Masterpiece episodes were captioned on the PBS web site, and there was no indication of them.)

It may be a bit challenging to figure out how to turn on the captions.  CBS didn't do a good job of helping people to recognize right away that the episode would be captioned; everybody else is using a "CC" or "subtitle" indicator that can be seen right away.  Here are some instructions:

Go to  Find a *full* episode of a series that you're interested in and click on it.   To turn the captions on, bring your cursor into the middle of the video to see the menu show up.  Look for and click on the plus sign for "More" on the lower right hand side, click again on "CC  captions" just once. (Unfortunately, there seems to be no immediate visual indication of when the captions activate except by waiting to see if the captions show up; the letters of "CC Captions" don't change color or shading noticeably.)  You'll have to click on the bar on the right hand side to bring the video back to the beginning point because you will have missed the beginning dialog.

For now, captions will need to be activated each time you see a new episode.  Once you get used to the menu, pause the video every time you start a new video and then try to quickly turn on the captions before the whole window shrinks into a small box and makes the menu disappear.

Obviously, the menu is not well designed, but hopefully it will be improved over time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Adding Captions to YouTube videos

A while ago, I received the following question, and thought the answer might be of interest to others:

"I need some advice for how to add captioning to videos that are uploaded on the net (for example just to YouTube)."
First, let's discuss YouTube because it offers two free tools to help users caption their own videos:  auto-synchronization and automated captioning.  

Either tool is under the control of the holder of the account where the video has been uploaded (or by someone who has been given the authority to use that account).

However, imagine that you already have a complete script for a short video under fifteen minutes long (YouTube's current limit for uploaded videos from most standard account holders). YouTube's software can automatically synchronize the words in the text with the spoken audio.  This saves a great deal of time and is the best way to provide the captions if you already have a complete transcript.  (However, it will still help to read the "Captioning Key" and you may still want to use afterwards to make any needed changes; both are discussed below.)

The second YouTube tool is automated transcription, which uses Google's speech recognition software to produce captions and which generally inevitably produces errors.  By default, new videos uploaded to YouTube are now automatically transcribed.  If the speech on the video is clear and in unaccented, standard English, and if there is no background noise or music, chances are that the automated transcription might work fairly well at producing usable captions.  The resulting caption file should then be edited to correct any  errors. 

Viewers do not see the automated captions unless they have elected to turn on the automated transcription by pressing the red CC button on the lower right hand side of the video, then clicking on "Transcribe Audio", and then on "OK" after they have been made aware that they are using a beta service.

YouTube began providing free automated transcription of all videos uploaded to YouTube early in 2010.  (The service can also translate the English captions into different languages.)  See:

An easy way to edit the resulting caption file is to use the free third-party tool at:

To see a captioned video showing how to use this resource to provide a completely new caption file or how to edit an existing caption file, go to:

Before starting the editing process, I highly recommend looking at the following very good overview on captioning

For example, there are "style guidelines" and a "Captioning Key" about how to format the captions properly which is particularly useful to read.  Many amateur captioners would do well to look over the Captioning Key. Although I'm a long time user of captions, I still saw tips there that hadn't been obvious to me. 

There are other tools as well to caption videos or YouTube videos, which are mentioned in the above resource. 

If you want the ability to caption any video in any language, check out http://DotSUB

I haven't had personal experience using any of these captioning tools.  (Being hard of hearing, I'm usually not able to make out the dialog in videos in order to caption them.)  Please feel free to share your experience using these captioning tools by posting a comment below.

Update:  I've written this blog with the presumption that most people reading this blog would be interested in learning how to do the captions themselves. However, there are professional companies who specialize in providing captions for videos.  See the comment below for more information.  I've edited this blog to incorporate the corrections provided. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Commenting on the San Francisco Chronicle article about the lawsuit against Cinemark

Disability Rights Advocates has brought suit against the movie theater chain Cinemark for not doing enough to provide closed captioning in its theaters.  The San Francisco Chronicle has an article here about it:

There have been many comments written in response, most of which are quite negative. Most of the people writing negative comments seemed very concerned that they'd have to pay much higher ticket fees if the suit was successful and if it cost $10,000 to install the technology, so they think people with hearing loss should just stay home and not drive up costs for anyone else.

However, the movie theaters have actually been very, very profitable. Last year alone, Cinemark paid out roughly $16,300 in dividends per theater. And Mary Watkins of WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media stated today that the actual cost of the Rear Window Captioning technology is now around $5000, not $10,000.

After learning all that, I submitted a comment on the web site to provide some of this additional information.  If you like my comment, please mark it there as liked so that it'll be more likely to be read as a "popular" comment and will educate more people.  (The most popular comment is negative and was "liked" by 129 people as of the time of this writing.)  The easiest way to find my comment might be by going to this link:

Here's what I wrote:

1) According to Mary Watkins of WGBH, the actual cost of the Rear Window captioning system is around $5000 and is even less when purchased in bulk. (However, there are other kinds of closed captioning technology options in development, too.)
2) The movie theater chains can well afford to install this equipment. Last year alone, Cinemark paid out roughly $16,300 in dividends per movie theater. If they made their theaters more accessible by spending $5000 on the closed captioned equipment, they would bring in even more customers and make even more money.
3) Hearing loss probably already affects someone within your own family or circle of acquaintances. One out of 3 people over 65 has hearing loss. If more movie theaters were fully accessible, think about how enjoyable it would be for that person with hearing loss to be able to join other people in an outing to the theater instead of being left out. 
4) Your ability to hear is a gift. Have compassion. You could lose it at any time.

Read more:

Feel free to add your own comment there, of course!  (You'll need to register in order to do so.)