Thursday, June 10, 2010

Accessibility conference - no closed captioning/scripting at the CHS sessions

This week I attended a 2 day conference covering accessibility in the academic environment.

lecture hall
First day I was pleasantly surprised to see that the sessions were "captioned". I believe they used a type of google chat service. The speaker wore a microphone and someone in another room typed what he/she was saying.

There were some issues, often the microphone would go off or shift or something so that the typist couldn't hear, so there would be messages from the typist about the audio feed being cut, which wasn't usually addressed until a couple of minutes further into the lecture because the speaker or room helper didn't notice the scripting issue.

Often there was only one mike, so if there were 2 speakers they had to fumble with taking the lapel mic off and giving it to the other speaker.

During the keynote speech the scripting screen would go blue every 10 minutes. One of the conference techies in the audience had to walk down to the computer on the podium and wiggle the mouse (the speaker couldn't access the mouse because she had a ambulatory disability).

Also the captioning was not in real time. The captioning appeared on the screen one paragraph at a time about 1 minute after the speaker had uttered the words. Keeping up was a little difficult.

But come day 2 I came to expect that all sessions would be captioned/scripted. I was surprised that in the 2 sessions offered by the Canadian Hearing Society there was no captioning.

The first session was on Deaf culture. The Deaf speaker stood at the front of the lecture hall, her interpretors sat in front of her, backs to the audience and spoke/interpreted what she was signing. I could not read the interpretors' faces/lips, there was no captioning on the double screens (just the same slide on both screens). After a half hour I gave up and I left frustrated. I later talked to someone in the audience who had no hearing loss and she loved the session, found it really interesting to hear this woman's Deaf experience. She was surprised when I said I was really disappointed because I could not hear what was being said. It hit home for her about accessibility issues - here I was a deafened person at an accessibility conference, in a lecture about the Deaf and there were no accommodations made for the deaf (small "d" deaf, late deafened non-ASL language).

Then I went to a session about hearing devices. The session was given by 2 representatives of the Canadian Hearing Society. No closed captioning again. I was told that I needed to tell the conference providers ahead of time that I needed accommodation. I was rather surprised, I had assumed the closed captioning was a given at an accessibility conference, especially at a CHS session. 

closed captioning logo
The biggest opportunity at the conference was talking to other attendees. This is the first time I met a few people like me - double BTE profoundly HOH, late deafened adults. One double BTE audience member talked about closed captioning (in particular youtubes new auto captioning) at a captioning session and said that captioning that offered only 70-80% reliability even captoning that offered 95% reliability wasn't good enough. (Here's a short article about youtube's new auto-captioning.)  I was so glad to hear him say that out loud. Hearing people who caption videos need to know that good enough is not good enough. It was also exciting to talk to people who work with students with disabilities - a lot of the issues that deaf students have with regards to access to resources and high costs have been what I've experienced too.

JAWS logo
The sessions were eye opening especially in terms of what was currently available for some disabilities. JAWS was especially enlightening. It's important to produce accessible web pages with proper alt tags and tables that conform to W3C accessibility standards. Listening to an example of a poorly structured page was confusing and irritating.