Offline Hurdles: The Power of Briefs

Autocorrecting Your Way to a Smarter Workflow

Yelling frustrations into smartphones has become an almost daily part of life. As we hurriedly zip out texts, this function has the tendency to take the reins and skew meaning in annoying, sometimes hilarious, ways. By taking control of this system, offline captioners greatly increase productivity, convenience, and peace of mind in their contribution to video post-production. After all, with the sheer volumes of content being generated today, we need every shortcut out there.

At VITAC, this personalized list of shortcuts are called briefs; some call them macros, text expanders, or “autocorrect”, and they can either drive you mad or save your sanity. Early on in the career of an offline captioner, it becomes apparent that people today tend to use a very, very common vocabulary. Narrow the field of vision to cookingFlavortown, Guy Fieri, Captions, Captioning, Food Coma Town shows, and the variety of words used gets even slimmer. No matter how fast you think you can type, there comes a moment where you simply cannot type the words, “delicious,” “restaurant,” or “sauté” a single time more, so you classify a set of shortcuts to expand “rt” to “restaurant,” or “dc” to “delicious,” and that’s how you keep ahead of any especially fast-talking chefs. “Ft” could very well help you never have to type the word “Flavortown” again.

Briefs, captioning, shortcuts, macros, autocorrect

 

Within our proprietary offline captioning software, VNL, is the briefs interface, where captioners distinguish and categorize shortcuts for use when most needed. There are the personal briefs, for every show, temporary, series-specific, computer-specific, and “other” for our captioning staff. Sometimes a little gem-like inside jokes left are left behind by someone who’s worked on the show before. One captioner writes, “I’m not sure what was happening in my life when I made this one.”

 

After long enough in the captioning industry, captioners have a brief for almost anything you can think of, but here are some general rules of thumb followed:

  • Adverbs: People actually use a lot of adverbs. Seriously, definitely do that immediately—really.
  • Fillers: Unscripted actors, those on home-renovation, cooking, reality programming, and the like, say “like” and “you know” all the time, along with various other filler words. It won’t take long to notice which filler words people absentmindedly throw into everyday conversation. Yes, it will get annoying.
  • Sound Effects: There are only so many sound effects. Everyone [ Laughs ], [ Cries ], and [ Scoffs ]. There will always be another [ Phone ringing ].
  • Misspellings: Do your fingers insist on typing “jsut” instead of “just”, or “recieve” instead of “receive”? Do you tend to capitalize the first to letters of every sentence or end words with “ign” instead of “ing”? Let the system take care of all the words you refuse to learn and the wrong ways your fingers hit the keyboard at 90wpm.

 

At VITAC, we caption videos on every subject imaginable, and each genre has its own specific parlance which you can key into and begin to predict what will be said next, and staying one step ahead of your project is the trick to efficient captioning. Then, as with most jobs, captioners may, without noticing, take work home with them. They might use bracketed sound effects in text messages, or begin to notice that they text the same words many times each day. That’s when it’s time to open the autocorrect settings and begin developing a personal dictionary of briefs. There is truly no limit, as evidenced by this enterprising and devoted son when he made a brief on his mother’s phone to exchange the phrase “dirty laundry” to a transcript of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Autocorrect prank, shortcuts, Ulysses, briefs
So, which briefs couldn’t you live without? How are you making autocorrect work for you instead of against? Let us know! Be sure to check out the other Offline Hurdles, and look to our offline captioning page to find out more about the work being done at VITAC.

 

Offline Hurdles: The Captioned Puzzle

Clarity, Accuracy, and Timing in Accessible Programming

There are a few different styles in which television is captioned, each with its own merits and flaws, but the four pillars of closed captioning are as follows:

  • Accuracy: Captioning shall match the spoken words (or song lyrics when provided on the audio track) in their original language (English or Spanish), without paraphrasing, except to resolve any time constraints.
  • Synchronicity: Captioning shall coincide with the corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible.
  • Completeness: Captioning shall run from the beginning to the end of the program, to the fullest extent possible.
  • Placement: Captioning shall not block on-screen graphics.

 

Combined, these tenets, directed by the FCC, attempt to create a viewing experience like that which the audio track delivers. In the world ofpre-recorded captioning, this can become something of a balancing act—one which involves a couple hand-offs and some personal discretion. Your pre-recorded programming comes through three levels at VITAC; it is transcribed, timed/placed, and reviewed. Now, it’s the job of each captioner to make their successor’s as easy and streamlined as possible. If all goes according to plan, the timer/placer won’t change much, and the review will watch a clean file then deliver.

 

Transcription and the Questions That Arise

hand-laptop-notebook-typing
It seems clear enough, right? Just write down what people say. Before beginning anything, though, a treatment is consulted to verify any  client-specific requirements. Can dialogue be cleaned up to cut down stuttering or filler words like “um,” “like,” and “you know”? Are you allowed to write “gonna” or should it always be “going to”? If an actor is dropping the ends of their words, do they write “droppin’”? How are accents handled? How is profanity handled? A lot of these questions come up due to the unpredictability of unscripted television, as we can mostly assume scripted stutters and other acting is intentional, but every show has its own particular guidelines. Now it’s off to the races of accurate, light-speed typing, ensuring that every name and obscure pop-culture reference is spelled correctly before handing the project to a timer/placer.

 

Time, Place, and Make Everything Fit

Get all the words on the screen as they’re spoken with enough time to load and make sure everything’s broken up in to easily digestible, almost poetic, bites. If you think about the captions that scroll up the screen like a kind of continuous loading bar, know that the one’s that pop on need to fully load before springing onto screen. This load time is affected by pretty much anything you change—caption length and position being the top two variables.

As more people begin talking simultaneously and plot-pertinent sound effects take place, things can get a bit dicey. Do you polish something? Bring the captions in early? Late? How important is that ringing cellphone? It’s all about doing what you can to communicate an auditory experience visually in an efficient manner. In addition to grammar genies, captioners need to be pretty adept at solving these puzzles.

 

 

Accuracy and synchronicity are on opposing sides of a see-saw, vying for control, and your captioner is the mediator, trying to keep things balanced. Hidden within every second of broadcast television are many decisions and perspectives at work. And after any time spent captioning, especially loud reality programming, the viewing experience is forever changed. You’ll always be asking yourself, “How in the world did they handle that?” Look closely and pay attention to the captioning medium. You’ll find there’s a lot behind how this information is translated and delivered.

 

 

FCC Announces Effective Date for Captioning Responsibilities Report and Order

Video Programmer and VPD Caption Responsibilities Take Effect September 22, 2016,  Certifications, New Caption Complaint Process to be Announced at Later Date

FCC_CC_Responsibilities
Earlier year, the FCC released a Report and Order clarifying television closed captioning responsibilities in regard to compliance with the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices that went into effect March 16, 2015.

We briefly reported on the order in February at its initial release.

The Report and Order officially was published in the Federal Register on August 23, 2016, so the amendments regarding responsibilities officially take effect 30 days from publication, September 22, 2016. This clarifies that:

  • It is the responsibility of the video programmer to ensure the ordering and presence of quality closed captioning on programming, while it is the distributor (broadcaster, cable, or satellite company) to make sure the captions pass through, and pass through correctly regarding any technical aspects.

The rest of the order regarding caption compliance certification and complaint procedures will not go into effect until they are reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and include specifically:

  • The video programmer, or the network, must certify compliance with the Quality Best Practices directly to the FCC annually. Or, if the video programmer is exempt from having to caption the programming, they must identify the reason (s).
  • “Burden shifting” of initial investigation of caption complaints to the VPD. Those with a caption complaint may file their issue with the VPD or directly with the FCC. If the VPD finds the issue to be on their end, they must notify the FCC and specify how they plan to correct the issue. If the VPD discovers it is not an issuse they’re responsible for after a thorough technical analysis, the video programmer must then conduct an investigation into the program in which the issue occurred and has 30 days to give a written response to the FCC. Complaints going to a VPD or the FCC should include the following:
    • Channel Number
    • Network
    • If going directly to the FCC, name of their VPD (cable/satellite company)
    • Program Title
    • Specifics of the Captioning Issue
  • A “Compliance Ladder” if a “trend,” or “pattern” of non-compliance of caption quality by a certain VPD is noticed,  that VPD will be notified by the FCC and have 30 days to file a written response on corrective action.

We will be following this closely, and will update when the effective date is announced of the latter parts of the amendment.

As always, VITAC, as the caption vendor, adheres to the best practices set forth in section 79.1(k)(2),(3) and (4) of the captioning rules, provided the programmer has adopted and follows the best practices set forth in 79.1(k)(1).

Contact us with any questions, or visit our Regulations pages.

By Brittany Bender

Gamers with Disabilities Get Twitch Spotlight

Twitch Showcases Gamers with Disabilties, Beta Tests Live Closed Captioning

According to a BigFishGames.com study, over 155 million Americans play video games three or more hours a week. This includes console gaming, and ever-growing mobile and mobile-app gaming.

According to the most recent census data, nearly 1 in 5 Americans are living with a disability. This week, Twitch, a video streaming platform known for video gaming, is highlighting gamers with disabilities to showcase how they adapt to play video games and stream themselves playing live.

The event is being brought to Twitch by advocacy group, AbleGamers, whose mission is to “…improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the power of video games.”

Twitch is also making strides in accessibility by beta testing their live closed captioning feature. AbleGamers also assisted in testing this while they streamed themselves playing Rocket League.

Twitch_Able Gamers Closed Caption Beta
Screenshot from AbleGamers August 18th stream of Rocket League Beta Testing Twitch Live Closed Captions

Some Twitch streams draw in hundreds and thousands of viewers at a time, and with over 50 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans, closed captions on Twitch would enable them to enjoy watching or broadcasting gaming even more than they already do. A petition on Change.org was created last year to urge Twitch to release a live closed captioning option for E3, the gaming industry’s annual trade show that highlights the best and newest games for the upcoming year. Many live Twitch streams are featured during E3, and during many other gaming trade shows.

You can check out the rest of the week’s Twitch AbleGamer schedule and learn about how gamers with different disabilities integrate their gaming systems, play and excel popular video game titles.

Stay tuned, as we’ll be following developments of Twitch’s closed captioning feature closely, and hope that it is released in full soon.

By Brittany Bender

VITAC’s Realtime Captioners and Coordinators: Golden

As the Olympics Wind Down, We Thank our Realtime Department

Our last post focused on VITAC’s preparation for captioning the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, nearly doubling our daily volume across at least seven different NBC Universal-owned networks, five live Multi-Distribution System feeds, and multiple web channels. The games come to an end this Sunday, and wrap up with the Closing Ceremony. This week, we just want to take some time to show our appreciation for our Realtime staff for helping make these Olympic games accessible for over 50 million Americans who rely on closed captions.

Rio_opening_ceremonies

Opening Up

It all began Friday night, August 5th with our captioning coverage of the Opening Ceremony and the Parade of Nations. The Opening Ceremony was a tribute to the creation and discovery of the Olympics host country, Brazil and featured native performers, stunning projections, and acrobatic choreography from the minds of those at Cirque du Soleil. The second part of the ceremony gave a unique view and focus to the environment and climate change.

VITAC was fully prepared and captioned the show beautifully! All of the song lyrics and some of the show’s dialog was in Brazil’s national language, Portuguese, which we cannot translate live into English captions, so music notes and [ SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE ] were common throughout the program.  NBC’s commentary was of course in English, but there were a few Portuguese words that they mentioned, including “caipirinha,” Brazil’s national cocktail, flawlessly captioned and spelled correctly!

A Little Help from Our Friends

With all of these Portuguese words being used in the English commentary throughout the Olympic games, one of our captioner’s relatives assisted in an out-of-the-box way.

VITAC Realtime captioner Jessica Bewsee’s daughter, Melody Chapin, is a Fullbright scholar, fluent in Portuguese and offered to record herself saying some of the names of venues, athletes, and commonly-used Portuguese words.

Our realtime captioners “write” what they hear phonetically on their steno pads. There are words that we know how to pronounce in English by the way they are spelled, but are completely different in Portuguese.

For example, one of the four main zones that the Olympics will take place in is pronounced BA-HA. In actuality, it is spelled, Barra. If a captioner was going off of a roster for preparation, Barra looks like it would be pronounced BEAR-UH or BAR-UH, and they could likely miss the connection during broadcast. Conversely, if a commentator makes reference to Barra during the Olympics, there’s a chance that a captioner could have written it as Baja if they hadn’t prepared! Melody pronounces it BA-HA in the video, and this text to audio link fills in the final gaps for our captioners.

“This is the main challenge of live captioning… Receiving a roster for a game or a list of venues can be almost worthless because what we see is nothing like it is pronounced,” affirms VITAC Realtime Captioner Suzanne Hagen.

Bling Count

In addition to ensuring our captioners are ready, prepped, testing connections, and monitoring caption feeds, our Realtime production coordinators go even a little further past the finish line and assist with preparation material. Every hour or so, they are responsible for updating the “Medal sheet”.  After events have concluded and medals have been awarded, the coordinators record the name of each athlete and whether they won gold, silver, or bronze. They then send the updated sheets to the Olympic captioners, so they are prepared if the NBC commentators mention Ukranian Track and Field star Bohdan Bondarenko, in case he medals in the men’s high jump this evening.

Wrapping Up

Our coordinators and captioners are just as busy preparing for the closing ceremony as they were preparing for the opening ceremony, all while performing their regularly scheduled duties, and their Olympic work.

A heartfelt thank you to all who have made this event a huge success so far. We appreciate your hard work, dedication, and overtime hours!

While the closing ceremony will air at 7:00 PM Sunday night, stay tuned to NBC and its affiliates for the rest of every “golden” moment this week. Check out NBC’s Olympics site for the full television schedule, and be sure to take a page out of comedian Leslie Jones’s book and turn the captions on!

By Brittany Bender

VITAC Prepares to Caption the 2016 Olympic Games

Rio Summer Olympics Open This Friday–VITAC is Ready.

Olympic Mascots in the Stadium

Days before the opening ceremonies, hundreds of thousands of individuals work tirelessly to ensure that Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is fully equipped and prepared for the start of the of the Summer Olympic Games.  They must make certain that the city is ready for the influx of record number visitors, and provide a safe, secure infrastructure for international athletes and spectators alike.

Back here in the States at VITAC Headquarters in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, nearly every department is heavily involved in preparation for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.  Starting this Friday, August, 5th, we will begin a two-week surge in captioning, nearly doubling our daily volume as we caption the Olympics  across at least seven different NBC Universal-owned networks,  five live Multi-Distribution System feeds and multiple web channels.

Manager of Realtime Production Coordinators, Mark Paluso says his team has been working nonstop to ensure equipment and captioners are ready for anything that might happen.

“Together with our engineering department, we’re testing primary, backup, and redundancy scenarios,” he said.   “This includes intensive testing of Headquarters and Realtime Captioners’ IP connections, phone lines and audio lines.”  One event may require a captioner to be connected to up as many as eight encoders, and our engineering and coordination teams must ensure those connections are fluid and working.

Production coordinators are also responsible for working with NBC to create preparation material that captioners will use to improve accuracy while writing on fly, including:

  • Song lyrics and scripts for the opening and closing ceremonies
  • Lists upon lists of athletes – not just those participating, but those who won or lost in the past: i.e., anything that may be referenced on air.
  • Medal Counts – several times day the production coordinators will update our “medal count spreadsheet,” which details country, athlete, and team awards. The medal counts are blasted to Olympic captioners several times a day.Aerial view of the Rio Olympic Park

Once the games begin, the production coordinators work with our scheduling team to ensure captioners are set up for scheduled events and tested with NBC in advance of air.

Our systems and engineering team is creating a caption monitoring station where all of the Olympic video feeds’ captions will be monitored to ensure captions are on air even when the captioner cannot see the feed.  We’ve also revised our technical discrepancy reporting procedures so that any technical issues are immediately directed to our technical support team for resolution.

And let’s not forget the realtime captioners, who will be on air non-stop, doing their best to ensure that those viewers who rely upon captioning see the most accurate captions possible.   “Captioners are using the NBC Olympics website and volumes of prep material provided by NBC to update their dictionaries,” said Realtime Captioner Trainer Karla Ray.  She points out that though captioners may have a schedule indicating that one sport will air in a given time slot, they must be prepared to caption all sports, as one never knows what may air.

Captioners not on the air for the Olympics will be working overtime to cover our regularly scheduled programming.

The entire Olympics preparation effort is being led by Chief Business Development Officer, Doug Karlovits and Chief Operations Officer, Chuck Karlovits.   Veterans of Olympic captioning, they say this summer’s event, with its extensive web and Spanish captioning feeds, is the biggest yet.   “We couldn’t do this were it not for our dedicated team of caption experts and captioners,” says Chuck. “I am grateful every day for the extraordinary efforts our team makes to ensure delivery of accurate captions– especially now to Olympic viewers the world over.”

Be sure to tune in with the captions on at 7:00 PM EST this Friday, August 5th, for the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and check back here on our blog next week for an update of our golden Olympic captioning coverage.

Logo for Rio Olympics 2016

Bilingualism on Live Television: a Captioner’s Perspective

VITAC Captions Speeches That Transition Between English and Spanish at the DNC

Karla Otriz speaks Spanish at DNC

As most of us are already well aware thanks to TV, social media, and the dinner table, the election season for most Americans is one of interest, excitement, hope, and sometimes frustration. For a closed captioning company, it is no different, except there is the added pressure of overlapping speakers in debates, political commentators vying for their three second talking point, and most recently, rapid transition between languages in national speeches.

This year’s Democratic National Convention brings an interesting challenge for those behind the steno machines. The democratic candidate for Vice President, Tim Kaine, is fluent in Spanish and has made multiple speeches thus far flipping between that and his first language, English.  In addition, on the first night of the DNC on Monday, multiple speakers also spoke Spanish and English in their addresses. They transitioned between one and the other seamlessly without much warning of transition. Some of the times, the speaker spoke in Spanish and translated their phrases into English as well. Other times, the Spanish was standalone, and there was no accompanying translation.

For the folks here at VITAC and those across the captioning industry that are responsible for accurate coverage of these events, the bilingualism presents a unique challenge. A caption industry veteran, Carol Studenmund, took to social media to address this very subject:

Facebook Post from Carol Studenmund

We reached out for comment and approval, and she said, “I was surprised by how many people thought someone would just peer over my shoulder and whisper in my ear and translate whatever was being said or ask “’why don’t we just have Spanish translators type it in?'”

A stenocaptioner is either trained in English or Spanish.   Even if one knows both theories, it is not possible to switch on the fly to another language during events that are captioned liveWe went to the source and asked some of our own realtime experts how they would handle the situation. Our realtime trainer, Karla Ray, confirmed Carol’s guess in her post and said that this issue had recently come up in reference to the current political events! She said they have told their captioners that “when Senator Tim Kaine starts speaking Spanish, use [Speaking Spanish ] when switching from English to Spanish in the same sentence or middle of speeches.” The approach allows for a captioner to quickly address what is being said and maintain accuracy during the event.

Tim Kaine speaking Spanish at nomination event

This is not the first time the National Convention stage has been an outlet for bilingualism. This article from NPR written during the 2012 convention highlights both party’s use of the two languages to accommodate the constantly shifting cultural landscape in America.

As the convention continues, and the campaign trail heats up in light of the approaching Election Day in November, it will be interesting to watch how the use of these two languages plays a role in both parties. We know that we, as well as our captioners, will be watching with interest, a smidge of anxiousness, and hyper-focused attention. Wish us all luck!

 

By: Tori Trimm

VITAC Behind the Scenes: The Finance Department’s Accounting Assistants

Spotlighting the work of Fran Zvonkovich, Lori Faraoni, Donna Fraser, and Joyce Matthews in Accounting.

Last time we met, Todd Osleger gave us just a peak into his role as a Senior Offline Captioner at VITAC. This week, we travel downstairs to Accounting Lane for a look at the roles that Accounting Assistants Fran Zvonkovich, Lori Faraoni, Donna Fraser, and Joyce Matthews play in keeping invoices, work orders, purchase orders, and balances all in check (a little finance joke). We so appreciate all of the work the Finance Department does for the entire VITAC team, and we are glad we got a chance to know a little more about what they do day to day.

Accounting Assistants at Work for VITAC
Accounting Lane in all their financial glory (Lori, Donna, Joyce, and Fran) .
Lori(left) and Donna(right) take a break for a little photo op

Q: What is your official title?

A: Accounting Assistants

Q: Can you walk us through a normal day at VITAC for you as a member of the Finance Team?

A: Our days usually begin with e-mail– addressing needs/problems/concerns from our clients and sales departments.  From there, there is no such thing as a normal day.  We prioritize our work based on the client/salesperson needs and deadlines, etc.

The following is a list of jobs that our department undertakes each day.

  • Invoicing which includes sorting/distributing and imputing data into detail sheets used during month end billing
  • Weekly [Wednesday ASAP] batches for our special clients
  • Daily check deposits and cash applications
  • Running client credit cards to pay for invoices
  • Posting vendor invoices for payment
  • Getting approvals for accounts payables
  • Weekly check run which includes: printing, signing, matching them to the invoices and mailing
  • Researching current information on clients with past due balances for collection purposes
  • Ordering supplies
  • Greeting guests, answering phones and distributing mail

Q: What are some of your favorite parts about the job?

A:

  • Interacting with our co workers
  • Getting paid for past due invoices
  • Seeing some of the interesting titles on the work orders that pass our desks

Q: What are some of the most challenging parts of the job?

A: Month end billing and collections

Q:  What advice would you give to those just starting out in the field or to anyone who wants to become involved in the Finance field?

A: Have good stress and time management skills and be flexible with your schedule.

Q: What do you do in your spare time not spent at VITAC?

Fran:  Riding my horse [Arc Angel] and exercising: walking, Zumba and swimming

Donna:  Yoga and healthy cooking

Lori:  Spending time with her family

Joyce:  Walking my dog [Sydney] and exercising: Yoga, Acro Yoga and Pilates

VITAC Finance Department at work
Fran (right) and Joyce (left) pictured working on various projects.

So great to hear from you all! Just four more reasons, why VITAC is “simply the best” and our customers keep coming back! Take a closer look at Our Team here for more insights on the wonderful employees that VITAC is so lucky to have.

By: Tori Trimm

 

“Hear Me. See Me. Know Me.” — An inspiring video about living with disabilities

Deaf-Blind teen, Brittany Winkleman, inspires many with video of personal narrative.

Brittany, left, works with aid in the classroom.
Brittany, left, works with her aid in the classroom.

Differences are a crucial aspect of what makes our culture as rich as it is, and yet, at times, they can be the biggest barrier to easy living within it. Brittany Winkleman, 18, has been “different” since she was born. Being both deaf and blind, Brittany is no stranger to adversity when it comes to her own disabilities and the assumptions people make about her. Despite the challenges she has faced, Brittany, a dedicated student with a passion for digital media and graphic arts, has never subscribed to the notion that her disabilities will keep her from doing what she loves. As of the video, posted in May of 2015, Brittany was preparing to graduate and attend college in the fall.

In a touching and inspiring video titled “Hear me. See me. Know me.” that she made for her senior project, Brittany walks viewers through her journey, staring when she was just two months old, with poignant clarity and optimism. There are clips of classmates, teachers, and aids who have been an integral part in Brittany’s success. She also touches on her own struggles with her disabilities, and how she had to come to think of herself in relation to her fellow classmates.

Left: Brittany poses with fellow classmate.Right: Brittany at work in the production studio for her digital arts class.
Left: Brittany poses with fellow classmate. Right: Brittany at work in the production studio for her digital arts class.

 

In addition to her personal narrative, Brittany explains some of the technology and tools that help her overcome the obstacles that her low vision and hearing loss present. Winkleman says in the video, “I can do anything, but I have to do it differently”.  At VITAC, we are dedicated to providing services to people like Brittany the world over, and are proud to be able to contribute, in whatever way we can, to enabling those with disabilities to live their lives on their own terms, be it in a slightly different way. This story was brought through Described and Captioned Media Program, an organization  funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by the National Association of the Deaf whose mission is to “promote and provide equal access to communication and learning through described and captioned educational media”.  VITAC is a proud DCMP-approved caption vendor, and is thrilled that DCMP could provide a platform for Brittany to share her story.

Take a look at the video here made available with both audio description and closed captions through DCMP’s site.

Brittany leaves us with words to live by saying, “When you meet people who are like me, don’t assume they can’t do it, let them show you [they can]”.

Thank you, Brittany, for your powerful words, and we applaud your continued success.

By: Tori Trimm

Office of Civil Rights Ensures Website Accessibility

11 Educational Organizations Reach Settlements Over Web Accessibility Complaints

Keyboard Accessibility ButtonOn June 29th, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced that agreements had been reached with 11 different educational organizations in seven states and one territory, which had had complaints filed against them involving website accessibility. They were concerned with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of ADA—specifically with online services and programs. The settlements involved:

  • Juneau, Alaska, School District
  • Guam Department of Education
  • Montana School for the Deaf and Blind
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico, Public Schools
  • Washoe County, Nevada, School District
  • Davidson Academy of Nevada
  • Nevada Department of Education
  • Oregon Department of Education
  • Granite, Utah, School District
  • Bellingham, Washington, School District
  • The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

The most common problems included absence of alt text on critical images, navigation barring blind and low vision users from using the website (exclusively requiring mouse movement for access), color combinations that made text difficult to read, and inaccurately captioned videos. The complaints led to investigations for each cited organization.

The OCR did not complete these investigations as all 11 educational organizations expressed interest in resolving the cases voluntarily.  The resolutions look relatively similar, though the timelines for implementation of the agreed solutions differ slightly.

First and foremost, all parties must affirm their commitment  to ensuring that people with disabilities have opportunities equal to those of others to enjoy the websites’ programs, services, and activities, especially those delivered online.

9 of the 11 organizations are then required to perform a full audit of their website to assess any and all barriers to use for visitors with disabilities. Both Bellingham School District and Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Institution are not required to audit their websites. They are permitted to internally assess the site and report on proposed changes.

Following the audit, the steps are as follows:

  • Create policies and procedures that ensure accessibility for all newly developed site content.
  • Format all new website content and functionality to be accessible to people with disabilities
  • Form a plan for prioritizing and correcting all current barriers to accessibility on the site
  • Post a notice to those with disabilities instructing how to request access to online information or functionality that is currently inaccessible
  • Implement and consistently provide website accessibility training to any and all appropriate personnel

Read the full press release here.

These settlements are a huge win for the world of accessibility and will hopefully set a precedent for organizations (especially those in educational fields) to make web accessibility a priority.  As our world becomes all the more dependent on websites and online databases as a primary source of information and content, accessibility becomes all the more necessary.

To read more about the policies currently in place to protect the rights on those with disabilities, check our regulations page. For more updates coming out of the accessibility circuit, visit VITAC’s Accessibility News blog page!

By: Tori Trimm
 Intersection: Websites and Accessibility