Naturally, Santa Knows ASL

With deliveries all over the globe, Santa might be the world’s foremost polyglot, and his multilingual fluency does not leave out American Sign Language. At his post at Regency Mall in Racine, Wisconsin, Santa ensures that all children are able to deliver him their list. “I want every child to have a very special experience sitting here with me. Some of the children who can’t hear — I can sign to them as well,” Santa said.Santa Paws Event Regency Square ASL Accessibility Holidays

There’s even a mailbox for more shy children who still wish to communicate. Santa explains, “I like to get lists, and if you can’t spell the word, draw me a picture,” as he spoke to the local FOX affiliate for a few moments. Santa understands that all children deserve to be included in the holiday tradition in ways they find most comfortable.

Seeing Santa provide inclusive experiences for children certainly strikes a cord, as he surprised parents in the U.K. by signing to their daughter last year in a video which quickly went viral and is making the Internet rounds again this year.

The Center for Hearing and Communication reports hearing loss in 5 out of every 1,000 newborns and 15% of children between the ages of 6-19, so for the near 3 million children in the United States with measurable hearing loss, an authentically multilingual Santa is that much more magical.

You don’t have to be Santa to promote an inclusive holiday season. A previous post of ours will get you started spreading holiday cheer in ASL with songs and holiday greetings.













FCC Delays Ruling on Audio Description Expansion

The FCC most likely won’t act upon any rulings Post-Election

FCC Building
FCC Delays Audio Description Expansion, along with several other high-profile regulations

Many blind and individuals with low-vision are frustrated after an item regarding audio description expansion (referred to as video description by the FCC) was deleted from the FCC’s November 17th open meeting agenda.

Audio description is a verbal representation of visual information in a television program or movie and provides accessibility to millions of Americans.

Currently, the FCC requires the top four broadcast networks’ local affiliates (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) in the top 60 broadcast markets to describe 50 hours per quarter of prime time and/or children’s television programming.

Further, the top five non-broadcast networks according to Nielsen ratings (Disney Channel, History, TBS, TNT and USA) must also describe 50 hours per quarter of prime time and/or children’s television programming.

The FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on April 1, 2016 that would expand the requirements for audio description, particularly increasing in the requirement of audio description from 50 hours per quarter to 87.5 hours per quarter.

The measure would have also increased the number of included networks required to audio describe from the four broadcast and five non-broadcast networks to five broadcast and 10 non-broadcast networks.

The agenda item was pulled from the open meeting due to the current political climate, in which Commissioners of the FCC are urged not to act upon any regulations before January’s Presidential Inauguration.  This is reportedly common practice, regardless of political party, as Commissioners under President Bush’s administration were urged to do the same before the Inauguration of President Obama in January 2009.

Usually, measures that are considered “complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial,” are tabled, so many are optimistic that the seemingly non-partisan issue of increasing accessibility still has a chance of happening at either the FCC’s next open meeting on December 15th, or beyond.

VITAC proudly offers audio description services for consumers who are blind and low-sighted, and was also disappointed to learn of the delay of audio description expansion. We are also still hopeful and excited at the possibility of this new regulation and will stay atop of any new development.

By Brittany Bender

Happy Thanksgiving from VITAC!

Happy Thanksgiving From VITAC

It’s the time of year to reflect and be thankful for all of the good things in life, and here at VITAC, we have a lot to be thankful for.

Not only are we thankful for some wonderful clients such as NBC, Discovery, CNN, CSPAN3, Scripps Networks (Food Network, Travel Channel), and many more, we’re grateful for the bonds and relationships we’ve formed with them over the years.

We also can’t thank our employees enough. They work tirelessly to ensure there are quality captions on live and prerecorded programming. Because broadcast television is a 24/7/365 industry, a lot of our employees work overnights, weekends and holidays. The deserve the utmost appreciation and recognition.

So this Thanksgiving, if you’re tuning into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC or maybe watching a Thanksgiving special on the Food Network, turn the captions on, and know that the company who made those captions is filled with gratitude.



Captioning Awareness Week Bringing Accessibility to U.K. Stage and Culture Events


This week, Stagetext is celebrating their second Captioning Awareness Week. From November 14th-19th, theatre and culture events around the U.K will be captioned for the 11 million deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens. Throughout the week, Stagetext is shining a spotlight on providing live captions for plays. There are also many museum and culture events with live-captioned tours broadcast onto handheld tablets for audience members.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory London Musical Captioned #CAPaware16

There are 14 events happening this week, 8 of which are located in London, at locations such as Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, and the Wellcome Collection. Some programming includes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the New Victoria Theatre, Wind in the Willows at the Mayflower Theatre, and many more.


On social media, Stagetext is spreading the world through #CAPaware16, which is collecting images of stage troops showing their support for inclusive art. The event has garnered so much attention that the Stagetext website was overwhelmed Monday by visitors seeking information, but has since managed the increased traffic. Here is a list of events happening this week.

On the hurdles of accessibility in theatre, Stagetext chief executive Melanie Sharpe said, “Because there are special equipment that you need, you mainly have a dialogue with Stagetext first, so even though the will is there and the awareness is there, [theatre companies] need support in how they’re actually going to do it.” Watch the rest of the interview from London Live here.

Stay tuned for updates on #CapAware16 events happening throughout the week.



How VITAC is Surviving Election Night 2016

VITAC Captioning Live Election Results

Election 2016

Our post last week focused on appreciating all of the hard work of our Realtime Department for tonight’s election results.

We decided to ask how they were planning on making it through the night. The answers we received were a mix of humor and reassurance that our technology and staff is dedicated to ensuring quality captions for tonight’s televised election results:

“I’m going to survive tonight by drinking a lot of hazelnut coffee,” said Production Coordinator Lisa Raines.

“In all seriousness, we are ready for election cut-ins. We’re setting up our back-to-back units and are ready,” added Lisa.

VITAC’s proprietary back-to-back units allow for seamless switching of captioners mid-program.

“We have about 13 production coordinators working from now until 4:00 AM and some of them will begin to monitor captions starting at 8:00 PM,” Manager of Realtime Production Coordinators Mark Paluso stated.

One of our Realtime Captioners shared the hashtag, #PleaseSpeakSlowly in preparation for the voting outcomes to roll in, as our captioners are prepared to write at speeds of up to 300 words per minute!

“A local restaurant is offering Buy One Get One soup if you show them your ‘I voted’ sticker,” said Client Sales and Services Amanda Kahl, as the energy will certainly be needed!

So as the results come in to tell us who the next POTUS will be, our Realtime department is working overtime and overdrive!


YouTube Listens for Input at Accessibility Summit

On Friday, YouTube Space LA held its inaugural YouTube Accessibility Summit, where many gathered to hear its disability community speak on ways which YouTube can make its platform better serve everyone. In addition to a presentation from Accessible Media Inc, a creators panel featured a conversation with some fantastic YouTuber accessibility activists, including Molly Burke, Lolo-Sitting Pretty, Rikki Poynter, and Tommy Edison.















Mark Barlet of AbleGamers also spoke, presenting on ways gamers can make their videos more accessible. We wrote on some of AbleGamers’ other advocacy efforts in their recent captioning efforts with Twitch streaming, and they were continuing their mission of inclusion through gaming on Friday. World inclusion leader Haben Girma gave a lightning talk, and the following Googlers spoke as well:

  1. Rob Youmans, Head of UX Research Sciences, YouTube
  2. Ken Harrenstien, Software Engineer, Closed Captions Infrastructure
  3. Lia Carrari, Technical Program Manager, Accessibility

Five interpreters were reportedly present, along with live captioning, as YouTube devoted the day to listening to how they can better serve their user base. Be sure to follow all these creative voices for progress as they continue to shape our digital landscapes.

Live Election Captioning Coverage

Presidential Election Season Adds Hundreds of Hours to Realtime Department Schedule

VITAC Live Captions 2016 Election

Not only is it the VITAC realtime department’s busy Fall season, captioning many hours of NFL and college football and NHL hockey across various networks, but another type of season added hundreds of hours of live captioning coverage to our already jam-packed schedule.

Presidential election season only comes around every four years, and with every press conference, debate, and breaking news alert, there has to be live captions to go along with them.

Our realtime department continues to work incredibly hard to ensure that the millions of Americans who rely on closed captions have access to all of the election-related televised programming.

VITAC realtime captioners must stay on top of the issues, learning the latest buzz words and topics concerning the race. They have to add proper names, places, and terms to their captioning dictionaries to ensure accuracy.

In addition to keeping their captioning dictionaries up-to-date, when they are captioning cable news programs or debates, they must decipher fast and overlapping speakers. They also have the added challenge of writing parentheticals such as [ SPEAKING IN SPANISH ] when Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine switches from speaking English to Spanish to his audiences.

Realtime production coordinators are ready at the phones 24/7 and prepared within minutes notice to set up a captioner(s) if one or multiple networks call us for breaking election news. There may also be a need to set up a Spanish captioner or two, and our coordinators are always up to the task.

Realtime Production Coordinators will Monitor Captions on Election Night
Realtime Production Coordinators will Monitor Captions on Election Night

And while the election will soon be over, the number of hours that we’ll caption will come to a head on November 8th.

“There are 150 additional hours of Election coverage currently on the Schedule and that is just for English on at least 30 networks,” said VITAC Chief Operations Officer Chuck Karlovits.

While election results are rolling in next Tuesday, turn the captions on!

For more information on realtime captioning, visit our live captioning services page.

By Brittany Bender



VITAC Offline Captions Halloween Wars

VITAC Gets into the Halloween Spirit Captioning  Sweet Carving and Baking Competition Special

Halloween Wars_Captions

Candy, and pumpkins, and cake, oh my!

No, we’re not talking about our office Halloween party… we’re talking about captioning one of our favorite spooky, seasonal TV programs, Halloween Wars on the Food Network!

Since 2011, five teams of three comprised of an award-winning cake artist, sugar artist/candy maker, and critically-acclaimed pumpkin carving artist compete each Fall for the grand prize of $50,000. The show is a take on the network’s year-round programs, Cupcake Wars and Cake Wars. 

Each week, the aptly-named squads (Screams, The Underbakers, Sugar Psychos, etc.) must create a “small scare” themed display containing the cake, sugar, and pumpkin. The winning team gets a small advantage in the main event where all troupes must fight head-to-head to create the biggest, scariest, most detailed Halloween display, while creating a themed “tasting element” for the judges(some guest judges have been the likes of horror legends and icons such as Rob Zombie, Tom Savini, and Elvira).

Halloween Wars_Display

One of the most frightening aspects of the show for the contestants: the challenges are timed!

“Working on them isn’t any different from a typical cooking competition show, though I find it pretty difficult to believe the up-tempo tension of it when the teams are ‘rushing’ to make their cakes in three or so hours,” said DJ, one of our offline captioners.

And while it may not be dissimilar to a lot of the other shows involving cooking and baking competitions, our captioners do have to add some bewitching flair when captioning Halloween Wars.

A recent sound effect in the show was captioned as, [ Pumpkin thuds ], while the musical introduction to the show is captioned as [ Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” plays ]

Our offline captioners look forward to working to working on seasonal programming that start this time of year.

“I do like working on them because I feel like they get me into the spirit of the holidays…” said Steve, another one of our offline captioners.

Offline Captioner Sarah said that these shows also get her in the “holiday spirit”.

Tune into the Food Network Sunday, October 30th at 9:00 PM EST for the bone-chilling Halloween Wars grand finale and make sure the captions are on!

By Brittany Bender

Miami University Settles Disability Discrimination Suit

Miami University in Oxford, OH Agrees to Overhaul and Improve Accessibility of Learning and Web Technologies for Students with Disabilities

VITAC_Miami U Settles Accessibility Suit

You may remember our post from earlier this year when the Office of Civil Rights reached agreements with 11 educational institutions in seven states and one territory regarding accessibility for students with disabilities. The organizations all had complaints filed regarding website accessibility concerning Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

On Monday, October 17, the Justice Department filed a consent decree resolving a similar suit with a higher education institution.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio has agreed to improve their learning technologies after the Department of Justice (DOJ) intervened in a court case originally brought forth by one student, Dudley v. Miami University. Ms. Dudley was a student who is blind at Miami, and alleged that the university did not provide accessible materials and technology to her.

The DOJ intervened to encompass protection and accessibility for all Miami University students under Title II of the ADA, which prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities in regards to services, programs, and activities run by state and local government institutions.

According to the DOJ, Miami University’s technologies used in their classrooms are inaccessible to students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision, or have learning disabilities.

Furthermore, the DOJ’s intervention claims that the Miami University did not make technology accessible and did not ensure that the university’s website and other online course content such as assignments and text was as accessible to students with disabilities.

Under the consent decree, Miami University has agreed to:

  • Make certain its website, content, and learning management systems are compliant with 2.0 AA Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  • Set individual meetings with students with disabilities to develop an accessibility plan for the technologies and/or materials needed for the student
  • Obtain software or technology that meets accessibility standards and needs, including improvements to the university’s procurement procedures.

The consent decree will also pay $25,000 to compensate students with disabilities.

“This settlement will ensure that students with disabilities can access and receive the full benefit of 21st century technology in higher education,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the DOJ’s press release Monday.

Potentially other universities and higher education institutions will follow without any lawsuits or intervention by the DOJ to make all assistive learning technologies accessible for all students.

The consent decree is still pending court approval. Check back for updates on this and other accessibility issues on VITAC’s Accessibility News blog page, and keep informed about federal guidelines regarding protection on our regulations pages.

By Brittany Bender



What It Takes to Caption Music: Thoughts In Wake of Lawsuit Over Lyrics Captioning

To follow up on a previous blog on this case, courts recently sided with Hollywood studios over a lawsuit with the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing concerning the lack of song-lyric captions, leaving caption content at the studios’ discretion. “From the description of both parties, it seems clear to the Court that captions, and specifically the decision regarding what content to caption, is a component of the moviemaking process, as the Studios must decide what level of captioning would provide the best experience for consumers using the caption and subtitle features,” writes the judge.

Here at VITAC, we strive to relay as full a viewing experience as possible through the written word, and follow FCC Caption Quality Best Practices to ensure lyrics are always included in captions. Music is an important part of conveying meaning, and our pre-recorded captioning experts consider more than lyrics when creating captions–they also must describe varying types of instrumental music, including the following:

  1. Transition: There is music playing, but all it’s really doing if filling dead air. Perhaps a couple on “House Hunters” is driving to their second location or the title card on “Castle” plays a few punchy notes as the show opens. For this, two music notes are placed in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
  2. Identification: With this type of music, which is normally instrumental, the hearing viewer would be learning something. If more information about tone or plot is being imparted than can be derived from visuals alone, some sort of signifier is key to that viewing experience. Descriptors are also used to identify specific songs being used as background music. Some examples include:
    • [ Suspenseful music playing ]
    • [ Upbeat Jazz playing ]
    • [ Steel drum playing ]
    • [ Mumford & Sons’ “Hopeless Wanderer” playing ]
  3. Lyrics: Primary focus is being placed on the music. Lyrics are obviously captioned for concerts, but think about your hospital melodrama montages which have given many alternative musicians their break into mainstream. If the creators of a program are allowing enough room in-between dialogue to for a viewer to hear the lyrics, there should be enough room to caption them, as well.

While the format of lyrics and descriptors remains the same across all VITAC programming finding the right way to impart the experience of what’s being heard to a viewer is where captioners need to get a little creative. One pre-recorded captioner writes:

“I once worked on a show for Vice that was nothing but a compilation of their unused B roll for transitions and such. It was kind of artsy and was mostly montages set to different music. That job had everything from [ Soft choral music playing ] to [ Speed metal playing ]. Some of the highlights were [ Pungi playing ], [ Tense, ethereal music playing], [ Slow classical fusion music playing ], and [ Electro-funk playing ].”

There are a couple of puzzles in finding the appropriate words to articulate sound—music and cartoon sound effects being the most notable—but captioning music has plenty of other difficulties, as well. For instance, if you’ve ever tried finding lyrics online, you know that almost every lyrics site is user-generated, which allows for irregularities and inaccuracies. Still, though, they’ll get you in the ballpark.

Robert Plant, Austin City Limits

As for concerts, on the upcoming “Austin City Limits” with Robert Plant & The Sensational Space shifters or the recent episode with James Taylor, there is a whole lot of vamping and improvisation with the classics they’ve performed dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Combine that with Plant’s unique singing voice and a full band, and deciphering lyrics becomes an almost superhuman feat.The Voice


We do receive lyrics for some programming, such as “The Voice”, where covers and new arrangements abound. And, as you can imagine, as music takes center stage for these shows, crowdsourced lyrics will not suffice. Another hurdle for the captioners of these shows is timing the work to ensure rhythm and accuracy, especially in duets. As captions require varying amounts of time to load, ensuring that everyone hits their cue.

Despite the fact that we include lyrics in all of our captions, sometimes we’ve noticed that by the time a program gets to air, the lyrics are deleted from the program.  This especially occurs on streaming platforms, and we always try to educate the programmer about the importance of providing a full viewing experience to viewers who  rely on captions. While this lawsuit may allow the right to refuse captioning music, VITAC will keep working to bring viewers the most accessible programming possible.