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.

Local Students Tour VITAC Headquarters

A group of court-reporting students from the Community College of Allegheny County toured the VITAC headquarters October 3rd, a visit entry-level students make with their professor, Mary Beth Johnson, every fall. Led by Realtime Captioner Trainer Sharon Siatkowski, students listened to an overview of the realtime and pre-recorded captioning departments before seeing demos of each. Of the visit, Sharon said, “They got their first look into what it’s like to have a career as a captioner and how it’s a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Here, we see Production coordinator Brian Bruneau explaining the Back-to-Back units, used for seamlessly transitioning between captioners mid-show.

VITAC, Captions, Tour, back-to-back machines, realtime

They also got to see Realtime Captioner Adrian Jonas write “NFL Primetime”. One student remarked, “That’s intense,” at seeing Adrian on air. These students are in their first month of the court reporting program and enthralled by the speed and responsibilities of realtime captioning. Some questions concerned average writing speeds in each respective department, where realtime steno captioners write around 225 wpm and pre-recorded writers write about 80 wpm. The group was also interested in learning about various protocols for caption content and delivery, engaging excitedly at the unique challenges presented by VITAC’s role in video post production.

Here, students watch Offline Supervisor Nathan Apple demo the process for pop-on captioning.

VITAC, tour, pre-recorded captioning, demo

Another Airline Lacks Captioning

Marlee Matlin Calls out Delta for Lack of Captions for In-Flight Entertainment

In early December of last year, America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco was on an American Airlines flight shortly before winning the competition. The in-flight entertainment did not have a closed captioning feature.

You may recall our post about it, but to recap, Nyle was not only the only male contestant on the show, but he is also the only deaf contestant in the history of the show.

Nyle took to social media to voice his frustration, and many other deaf and hard of hearing Americans joined in:

Nyle DiMarco American Airlines Tweet VITAC Closed Captioning


Since then, not only did Nyle become America’s Next Top Model and use his platform to become an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing communitiebut he also won Dancing with the Stars, and it seems that American Airlines now offers closed captions on more movie and television titles.

However, another deaf celebrity and advocate, Marlee Matlin, brought the spotlight to another airline via Twitter:

Marlee Matlin


American Airlines initially responded to Nyle with an erroneous claim about captions on different screen sizes, which was eventually deleted and apologized for the misinformation.

Marlee also brings up an excellent point: Most programs and movies already have closed captions, especially if they aired on television.

Delta has yet to respond publicly at all with any excuse:

Marlee Matlin Delta Airlines Closed Captioning VITAC


Join us in urging Delta Airlines to offer closed captioning with their in-flight entertainment, as millions of Americans rely on captions  for basic accessibility and enjoyment of media.

Return for updates. We’ll be following this story.

By Brittany Bender

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 of pre-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

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

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 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 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.


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