Inclusive events: captioning

Captioning is an important part of making events inclusive, and more people than we realise rely them. People who are hard of hearing can capture words and names that they miss or are unfamiliar. For people who are deaf they are essential, especially if there is no-one to sign. People with English as a second language find captions helpful too.

Although most Australian venues say they have hearing loops for those who can use them, they are often not working or switched on. Or they are set to pick up all ambient sound, which makes them next to useless. So, captioning is essential if you want an inclusive event.

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning screen is behind his right shoulder.

The pandemic has encouraged more online remote captioning rather than having the captioner in the room. Microphone placement then becomes even more essential.

Zoom and Teams offer automatic captioning, which often fails to pick up the very words that people miss. For example people’s names and place names. If the listener misses the word or words, it is likely the AI captioning will too. For example, in Australia, AI captioning has no idea of how to translate Aboriginal place names.

8 Steps to a more inclusive event

Sheri Byrne-Haber’s article, Eight steps to a more inclusive event goes through the different things you can do to make captioning really work.

  • Choose the correct type of captioning: Automatic is free but low quality. Live captioning uses court reporting systems to keep up with speech rates.
  • Send presentation material to captioners and interpreters before the event. This is so they can prepare product names and technical information in advance.
  • Send participant’s names in advance. This speeds up the captioning time.
  • Ask speakers to practice speaking more slowly.
  • Ask speakers to incorporate pauses to give time for captioners and interpreters to catch up. It gives time for listeners to absorb the information too.
  • Formalize the approach to land acknowledgement and visual descriptions. For example Mi’kmaq is pronounced ‘meeg-maw’ which is nothing like the English spelling.
  • Captioners are always behind the scenes but sign language interpreters need to be spotlighted simultaneously with the person they are signing for.

The video below shows how captioning is done.

Video by the Australian Government

See Byrne-Haber’s article on how to make PowerPoint Presentations more accessible. Captioning and signing are the kerb-ramps for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.