Monday, December 20, 2010

Winding Down, Gearing Up

Two of my the three colleges I worked at this semester are already on winter break, and I sent off their last 2010 invoice today. I've only got one regular CART class left in the semester. For the past two weeks, I've been doing much less academic CART work -- since most students had finals instead of class -- but I've been surprisingly busy for mid-December. On the 12th and 13th I captioned the annual Holiday Songbook for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was very cool; composers from all over the city were invited to submit new holiday music they'd written, for something like 40 songs in total over the two days. I was able to get some of the song lyrics in advance, and during tech runthroughs I was able to transcribe the rest of them so that when they were actually performed I could send them smoothly line by line instead of having to CART them live. The Library decided to try an experimental closed captioning system, where I sat up in the tech booth and sent the captions over the internet, while audience members went to the caption webpage on their phones and followed along that way. It went quite well, though this method certainly has its pros and cons. On the plus side:

* The event organizers were more comfortable with captioning being opt-in rather than having it visible to everybody.

* Several people -- including people of a somewhat older generation -- had their phones with them and were able to access the captions without any difficulty.

* This demonstration proved that captions can happen almost anywhere, even when a projector and screen are not available.

Of course, there are a few downsides to closed device-bound captioning over universal open captioning. Namely:

* The many glowing screens of patrons' phones can arguably be as distracting as the one glowing screen used in open captioning. Additionally, some people don't understand why the captioning is there, so they might assume patrons viewing captions on their phones are actually being rude and texting their friends, or even that they're pirating the concert.

* Not everybody with hearing loss who might be helped by the captions identifies that way; it takes an average of five years for someone with hearing loss to acknowledge the issue publicly or sometimes even to themselves. Some people might not even know that they have hearing loss, and open captioning can be a way of helping them realize how much they've been missing.

* Some people who could have taken advantage of the captions might not have had web-enabled phones, or might have been too intimidated by the prospect of navigating to a website on their phones.

* Open captions tend to be larger and more visible than hand-held device captions, which can often be a little too small to read comfortably. In addition, open captions tend to be in the same plane as the performer, while device captions require rapid adjustment between near vision and far vision as the patron looks from the performer to the caption screen and back, which can sometimes cause eyestrain and detract from the immersiveness of the experience.

* Closed device captioning only works when there's a reliable wireless internet connection or when people have fairly high-speed data plans on their phones.

So I obviously try to promote open captioning whenever possible, but it was cool to show the potential of closed device captioning, and I'm very glad that several patrons took advantage of it. So that was Sunday and Monday. On Wednesday I captioned the last new 2010 episode of That Keith Wann Show. Then on Thursday I open captioned a four-hour play Off-Broadway (Angels in America Part II: Perestroika), and on Sunday I made a new video for the open source steno software I've been helping to develop: Plover Speaks. The video demonstrates how people who are unable to use their voices to speak can use steno to communicate at a normal conversational pace. There are many people in this category: People who've had surgery on their mouth or throat; people who stutter; people who have autism; people with hearing loss who don't want to rely on an ASL interpreter or CART provider -- the list goes on. I'm really excited about the new version of Plover. We've got 40 people in the Plover Discussion Group and we're constantly working on improving it and adding new features.

Things are slowly starting to get a little less hectic, though I've got a few more jobs planned for this week, and I've still got to clean out my email inbox and finalize my spring schedule before I can truly relax and enjoy my vacation. During my time off, I'm hoping to write more frequently on this blog, and I'd like to expand my website a bit as well. So if any of you have questions about CART, captioning, freelancing, learning ASL, developing open source software, or living in New York City, write me at and I'll happily devote a blog post to answering whatever you'd like to know.


  1. Internet Captioning! Is this a new thing that you are one of the first to do? Sounds like a whole new frontier.

    Your discussion of the limitations of portable devices for viewing the captions leads me to think of how great it will be when low-cost HMD devices integrated with everyday eye-ware become available.

  2. No, internet captioning (usually called remote CART) has been around for quite a while, and for some things it's actually more common than onsite CART.

    I can't wait until low-cost HMD devices hit the market! No idea when that'll be, though.

  3. Mirabai, You are doing awesome, groundbreaking work! Fantastic. Mind if I copy this blog entry and paste in my own blog?

  4. Sure, as long as you link it back here!

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