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One of the “Fast Track Solutions” topics at the recent CMMA National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico was titled “Captioning Conundrum”. Working in smaller groups provided an opportunity for the media managers in attendance to share how each of us is approaching (or avoiding) the issue of captioning the videos we produce.

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in employment, government services and facilities access. But there’s still a lot of gray area surrounding the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for the hearing-impaired. However, technology is making it easier and faster to provide captions than in the past, which moves the needle on “reasonable accommodation” closer to the “always caption” side of the argument.

At Q Center, we recently contracted a vendor to provide CART services to a hearing-impaired guest during a two-day event. We sent audio from the sessions through a phone bridge, and a CART transcriber (presumably working from home in their pajamas) turned the audio into text in real time. Our guest was able to view the text on his smartphone or tablet, which allowed him to participate in the meeting in a more meaningful way. It was surprisingly easy to do, and could have easily been expanded to additional guests or even projected on the screen for everyone in the room.

Which highlights an often-overlooked benefit of captioning: it not only allows hearing-impaired people to participate, but it also is very helpful for those who are not native speakers of the language. Non-native speakers often can understand language much better when they see it written than when they hear it, particularly if the person speaking has an accent (doesn’t everyone?). Years ago, we were captioning English language videos in English for just this reason – it can be a useful tool for improving the language skills of the viewers, rather than simply providing the text in their native tongue.

But at the conference, I learned about a potential benefit of captioning that I’d never considered before — the value of captions as metadata. Since the caption files that accompany the video contain the full transcript of the video as well as time signatures, they give you the potential to make videos searchable by text without creating a complex taxonomy of keywords and search terms. In theory, a digital asset management system or your corporate website could allow users to enter specific phrases and quickly pull up not only the video files that contain those phrases but the exact location in each file as well. YouTube is already including the caption files in their search criteria, which helps with search engine optimization. My question is, is anyone using this data within your corporate intranet? If so, I’d love to hear your story.

Article contributed by Thomas Densmore, CMMA Board of Directors