Pittsburgh’s Inclusive Innovation Week Highlighting Accessible Art & Technology

“If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.” – Mayor Bill Peduto

It’s Inclusive Innovation Week in Pittsburgh, which kicked off on March 31st and runs through April 7th, and there are a ton of events around the city in which to participate. From free museum hours and a hands-on tour of digital accessibility to talks titled “Open Up. Fix It. Unconscious Bias” and “Inclusion & the Importance of Intersectionality,” there are countless ways to engage.

The Childrens Museum is holding free events all week, such as “Tot Spot: Curiosity and Nature!” on April 5th, and the Banksville Civic Association is holding a workshop focusing on introducing seniors to social media. The week is full of fun and thoughtful events for people of all ages.

Mayor Bill Peduto wants this inclusive mindset to be an integral part of what makes Pittsburgh great. He writes, “Too few cities directly address the goal of innovation through the lens of inclusivity. Our decision to be one of those cities will make the Pittsburgh Innovation Roadmap a tool that will not only better the city, but also its community.” We believe inclusion and innovation are inherently tied to one another, and this week highlights the many Pittsburgh organizations committed to unique approaches to accessibility.

The week ends with NextFest on Friday at 4:30, where “Steel City Codefest and Inclusive Innovation Week are teaming up to bring you a fair of tech for social good in Pittsburgh.” And this isn’t the only First Friday event in the city; be sure to scour the events list and follow #WeInnovatePgh on Twitter for more!

Inclusive innovation, Pittsburgh, accessibility

source: Pittsburghpa.gov

Naturally, Santa Knows ASL

by Johnathan Moore ©

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

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

by Johnathan Moore
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.



YouTube Listens for Input at Accessibility Summit

by Johnathan Moore ©

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.

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.

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

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.

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

“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