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Posted on: 5/16/2013 4:40:49 PM
In 1613, America was a wilderness and its inhabitants fought for survival every day. Threats like wild animals, the elements, and starvation loomed, and perishing of old age was by no means guaranteed. Fast forward 400 years, when longevity is assumed, and instead of working every day for survival, we fight for the comforts of modern America. Gently used furniture decorates the curbs on garbage day. We have more pillows on our beds than we need. Public libraries are available in nearly every community to better ourselves and possibly even meet people without spending a cent. The Deaf, too, are entitled to a life where they are not merely surviving, but living in a level of comfort that a hearing person would want for themselves and their children. One of these luxuries is participating in society as enfranchised, first-class citizens.
The issue is as timeless as it is timely. The President and the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf recently wrote an open letter to Secretary Shaun Donovan of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about the "egregious state of housing for deaf and hard of hearing individuals." The writers cite the lack of visual smoke alarms and the fire hazard that it creates for them -- a survival issue in the event of an emergency -- as well as the extreme isolation suffered by Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals assigned to units with zero neighbors with whom they can communicate -- a quality-of-life predicament. These individuals -- who surely are grateful for subsidized housing -- are living in their own country, yet they cannot communicate with their neighbors beyond basic gestures or writing their thoughts in a notepad. It is hard to believe that any hearing individual would find this situation acceptable, yet many Deaf individuals struggle with it every day.
Education, for Deaf students, is a struggle. Most integrated Deaf students (students educated in hearing schools) graduate high school at just a fourth grade reading level. Part of the problem is institutional -- think back when you were first learning to read if anyone ever told you to "sound out" a troublesome word. Classrooms often do not accommodate deaf students, and often doing so singles out the Deaf students who have to ask in front of their peers for the captions to be turned on during an educational video, or for the teacher to repeat a phrase, if the student can read lips. A special education schedule opens an entire host of stigmas. If there is a Schools for the Deaf in a family's neighborhood and they can afford it, they are lucky; Otherwise, a student may endure long bus rides each day and suffer having two groups of friends, for home and for school. The limiting factors in a Deaf student's education has vast reprecussions -- even a very basic publication like the USA Today is written at a fifth-grade level, making it inaccessible to the average Deaf individual. This narrows a world of information into a keyhole.
The reality is that the phrase "Deaf community" is not a community in the way that a village might be, and Deaf individuals have to interact with hearing individuals every day. Ways that Deaf individuals communicate with hearing (we'll assume non-signing) people include carrying a pad of paper or gesturing. One can imagine that while this level of communication is sufficient for survival, it does not lend itself to communication in schools or the workplace. Many Deaf individuals rely on lip-reading (speechreading), but only 30% of isolated English-language sounds can actually be discerned (words spoken in context improve this number, though no consensus exists on the exact reliability of lip reading). Furthermore, how does the speechreader respond, except with yes or no, to a hearing coworker? Some hard-of-hearing individuals describe pretending to hear coworkers or new friends, rather than disclosing that they are hard-of-hearing.
A recent technological development was the implementation of cochlear implants, which were approved by the FDA in 1985 for adults and 1990 for children. A device is surgically implanted in the skull and inner ear to vastly improve a Deaf person's ability to hear. They do not restore non-functioning hair cells, but works on the basis that "profoundly hearing-impaired individuals have auditory nerve fibers remaining that can be electrically stimulated to produce a sense of hearing." Though Cochlear Implantation is consistently ranked one of the most cost-effective medical procedures, it is can still cost thousands of dollars for those whose health insurance covers the procedure and equipment, and between $50,000 and $100,000 for those without health insurance. (The Gift of Hearing Foundation is one non-profit that funds cochlear implants for qualifying families). But while cochlear implants are a major technological accomplishment in helping Deaf individuals hear, it is not a miracle solution, and individuals with implants often still struggle with isloation from both the deaf and hearing communities, finding themselves not Deaf enough and not Hearing enough to integrate fully with either group.
How does a free nation help enfranchise 50 million Deaf Americans? One solution, since the 1980s, has been by providing accessible media -- captioning. The FCC mandates captions on all broadcast TV programs with few exceptions, a privilege the United States enjoys that not all countries do. It is a luxury -- not a necessity -- but to Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, it is a lifeline to the rest of the world. News, sports, and popular culture in the comfort of one's home are meaningless to the Deaf population without the captions. These captions are of little use if they are garbled, misspelled, or of generally poor quality. While realtime captioning is understandably difficult, and mistakes are bound to happen, VITAC spares no expense to get the best Realtime Captioners in the busniess -- they have over 98% accuracy rates. VITAC uses all employee captioners to complete offline (prerecorded) captioning, where other companies cut corners. Some caption companies use voice recognition software (for an example, watch a YouTube video with the automatic Google captions) or outsource their offline captioning to places like India. The outcome is exactly what one would expect -- bad captions. Captions were invented for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, not for bars, gyms or restaurants, and when a network or production company settles for substandard captions, the message to the Deaf audience is clear: "We don't value your business."
Worse than bad captions are no captions at all. In March, web content regulations went into effect, requiring IP-delivered programs to be captioned...with a few exceptions. If a program never aired on TV, such as straight-to-web programming, it does not have to be accessible to the Deaf population. If a program is less than the full-length episode, even by a minute, it is classified as a short clip, and also does not require captions. On airplanes, the in-flight entertainment is not required by federal mandate to be captioned, and most of them are not. In March, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the Air Carrier Amendments Act to require both captions and video description (for the low vision viewer) for all in-flight content. According to the government's own bill-tracking site, this bill has a 7% chance of making it out of committee, and a 1% chance of becoming law (not much worse than the 2% average, but a longshot nonetheless). For most Americans, these details are of no significance, but for a small portion (50 million Americans) it makes all the difference in the world.
Quality captions are not a life-and-death matter. Nor are they a luxury in the manner that a Carnival cruise or a Mercedes might be. They are a necessity for a basic level of inclusion in a world that has so many other ways to alienate the Deaf and hard-of-hearing population.
by Carlin Twedt
Posted on: 5/14/2013 5:48:32 PM
The following blog post, from outerchat.com, describes just a few of the struggles of deafness.
There have been a few times when I held back on telling someone that I am deaf out of fear of prejudice. Generally, people accept it pretty well, but upon reflection, I realized that it's not the person I'm worried about having a negative view of me -- it's the situation I'm in. For example, I have never brought up my deafness in a job interview because I'm concerned that my potential employer will disqualify me on the spot for it. I am aware that there are laws that prohibit any sort of discrimination against people. This holds true for overt discrimination, but -- to quote a term from a sociology course I took in college -- what about "institutionalized discrimination?" This is the idea of indirect discrimination against persons by institutions, such as schools or businesses. I do believe that this is prevalent in certain situations, so I tend to withhold telling people about my deafness in those situations, like job interviews or school applications.
In addition, I generally do not bring up my deafness on first dates, at social events, with new co-workers, etc. In the workplace in particular, I am concerned about their avoiding me or passing judgment on me, which would certainly affect my work situation. As for dates and social events, though it's not as bad if someone thinks poorly of me for being deaf sice I can always meet new people.
Although, I do tell people about my hearing loss after I get acclimated to work or social situations, I still have some reservations. One strategy I use when disclosing my hearing loss is pointing out my strengths that have come as a result of my hearing loss. This works out well after I tell co-workers or people I have known for a while because they tend to be more accepting.
VITAC captioning is always dedicated to serving -- and hiring -- those with disabilities, including hard-of-hearing individuals.
Posted on: 5/9/2013 5:23:00 PM
Tragedies like the one in Boston last week put those of us who were helpless to offer assistance in a familiar position -- glued to our TV screens, or else refreshing our browsers for updates from CNN or Fox. In the wake of the bombing, there were heaps of information, but just as much misinformation -- a third bomb at the JFK Library, and a suspect in custody a day or two after the bombings occurred -- but we took it with a grain of salt. Live TV, after all, is sometimes unpredictable.
One of the "anything can happen" moments occurred on Friday, an incident which went viral on in the following days -- local news station KDSW Dallas, in its closed captions, identified bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as New Girl star "Zooey Deschanel." How can such an egregious mistake happen? What faulty computer software mistook the TV star and total sweetheart for a Chechen terror suspect?
Answer: a human. The fact is, there isn't technology yet that can identify the dialects of Texans, Minnesotans, and Bostonians. There isn't a line of code or algorithm that can hear George W. say "nucular weapons" and know that he meant "nuclear" or that can spell "Dzhokhar" after hearing it spoken once. For that, we have the ears and fingers of the Stenocaptioner, a human writing at the speed of sound, who is required to listen to the audio and almost simultaneously "write" up to 240 words per minute using a 22-key stenography machine, all the while keeping a 98.5% accuracy rate. Easy, it ain't. In fact, about 90% of court stenography students drop out before certification.
One method for speeding up the difficult task of captioning Live TV (besides downing half-a-dozen Red Bulls) is by programming words into their "dictionary," a library of terms and proper names likely to come up. For example, a Captioner for ABC News might program the name "Stephanopoulos" into a single-keystroke to avoid typing the 14-letter beast and missing valuable text in between. The Stenocaptioner in the Deschanel incident likely had a pre-programmed entry for Deschanel's name, which they used at just the wrong time.
There is no Captioner's dictionary for breaking news. There is no guarantee that the Captioner will recognize every spoken word. All that is certain is that their mistakes will be DVR'd without mercy.
Errors like these are the stuff of captioning lore, for instance, the Captioner who accidentally called Nancy Reagan a "former fertile lady" or the one that listed Alan Greenspan in the hospital with an "enlarged prostitute." These things happen. The least we can do is appreciate a little humor in a very un-funny time.
by Carlin Twedt
Posted on: 5/2/2013 1:24:16 PM
Following the great success of House of Cards, a VITAC- captioned Netflix original series, VITAC is also captioning Netflix original Orange is the New Black, which premieres this July.
The series follows Piper Chapman (the author of the autobiography by the same name is Piper Kerman), played by Taylor Shilling, a woman whose past relationship with a drug dealer lands her in prison years after the fact. She has to deal with the demons of her past decisions and pay for the demons of others, out of which some positive human trait surely emerges. Much more than that has yet to be revealed -- what we do know is that Jason Biggs of American Pie and Laura Prepon, who played Donna in That '70s Show, are also in it. The series is produced by Lionsgate and features a "dramatic yet deeply funny world" according to Netflix's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.
Orange is the creation of Jenji Kohan, the mastermind behind Showtime's hit original series Weeds, who also writes the first and last episodes of the first season. It is her first major undertaking since Weeds, which leaves a high bar for her to rise to. Weeds was well received by both critics and viewers, who tuned in to Showtime each week to see the exploits of a strong, independent widow Nancy Botwin, who enters the illegal drug trade in order to support (note the use of "support," rather than "feed" or "clothe") her two sons. Along the way, she gets arrested, shot, impregnated, married and sent to prison, among many other of life's Hallmark moments.
But we never saw Nancy Botwin in prison -- season 6 ended with her confessing to a murder she didn't commit, and season 7 opened with her in a halfway house. Orange, if we may speculate, also features a strong female lead, played by relative newcomer Shilling, learning from mistakes she never made. If it is extension of Weeds, it is a welcome extension, and one that comes with high expectations from a sequel-loathing audience of hip (or too cheap for cable) Netfix subscribers.
In the true spirit of Netflix, the entire 13-episode season will be released at once, allowing us to most effectively curl up in bed with a Frito-Lay variety pack and call off sick for a week or so. Alas, what is the purpose of watching a TV or web series if you can't brag how you saw it all without once standing up?
by Carlin Twedt
Posted on: 5/1/2013 2:00:21 PM
On February 1st, Netflix released a good chunk of its original series, House of Cards. Its captioning company -- VITAC!
A little bit about the show -- imagine the 8th season of The West Wing, but instead of a hopeful, partriotic Aaron Sorkin (who created that series but left after the fourth season) behind the wheel, it is an angry, vengeful Aaron Sorkin, who creates conniving, manipulative, fantastic characters. But it is still Aaron Sorkin! (He does not actually write the series -- the point is, the writing is excellent.) It is slower-paced than its Beltway predecessor and more soap opera than civics lesson, but incredibly entertaining. You can read a review of it here.
Kevin Spacey is a jilted politician out for revenge after being passed over for Secretary of State. His monotonal voice and overall performance are simply chilling. In a good way! The show is still young, but reviews have been good. If you have Netflix for streaming, that is the only way to watch it. And if you do watch it, turn on your VITAC captions!
Today marks Scheduler Appreciation Day, a day when the Realtime Schedulers are recognized by the Realtime Captioners for their hard work and contributions to VITAC.
The celebration at our Canonsburg headquarters featured the goodie bags with lotto tickets and Canonsburg-made Saris chocolates, balloons, and a gourmet snack table that included cupcakes, an assortment of chips, and white-chocolate-covered strawberries. The festivities were sponsored by a generous group of over 80 Captioners, to let them know that their work is appreciated.
Their job is not easy -- a scheduler is responsible for making sure that all hours booked by our clients are distributed to captioners in the appropriate amounts, and at the appropriate times. It requires a massive amount of coordination and leaves little room for failure -- just a few seconds of missed captioning qualifies as a major error.
Logistical challenges are part of a scheduler's daily routine. If a client specifies that they want an in-house captioner, or a captioner stationed in Southern California, for instance, the Scheduler is responsible for meeting those demands. Also important is ensuring that a captioner has breaks within the show, or else breaks in between consecutive shows they may be captioning, so that they are able to rest, take breaks, and be ready for their next task. To make their task even harder, the Scheduler makes sure that the same group of Captioners works on a particular show every week -- since the Captioners prepare for a show by researching possible terms and adding them to their "dictionary," a Captioner cannot begin a show on the fly, with no preparation -- at least, not at VITAC.
The most recent triumph occurred just two weeks ago, during the Boston Marathon bombings. As with any news story, many national and local networks (as well as some sports networks, since distance running is a sport) interrupted their regular programming -- much of it prerecorded -- to cover breaking events at the bombings. The Schedulers had to scramble to find personnel available to cover all of these hours at a moment's notice. In total, the Realtime department rose to the occassion, covering over 193 hours of unplanned stenocaptioning in the wake of the tragedy.
Keep up the good work, Schedulers!
Posted on: 4/24/2013 3:29:19 PM
Teen Kids News -- a VITAC captioned show -- has just received an Emmy award for regional programming.
The show is produced in New York and broadscast in over 175 countries via the American Services Network, as well as right here in the US. It is a news program by teens, for teens, and features teen anchors like Mwanzaa and Jessica (they only go by first names) reporting on feature stories about positive, socially mided topics. Its stories' subjects include kids who started their own recycling initiatives, or adults looking to make the web a safer place for young adults. One story even featured VITAC!
The show has aired for 10 years and is the project of creator/producer Albert Primo and producer Alan Weiss. It has received numerous awards before this one, including the Silver Circle award from the National cademy of the Arts and Sciences, Hermes Creative Award, Angel Award, George Washington Honor Medal and several Accolade, Telly, and Communicator Awards. Of course, it is captioned by VITAC.
Great job, TKN, and keep up the good work!
Posted on: 4/19/2013 3:19:30 PM
VITAC has updated its homepage! The new design features a scrolling grey bar with the logos of some of our clients -- you may recognize one or two of them.
Please check it out: www.vitac.com
It is a fresher, more modern look for America's biggest and foremost captioning company. To everyone who helped out, we say "Thanks!"
Posted on: 4/15/2013 4:26:38 PM
As a communication major through college, I don't think I took a single core class that did not stress the importance of nonverbal communication. Sure, I knew that it was, but one thought had never really crossed my mind --"What if that was it? What if verbal communication wasn't an option?" It is easy to make such a simple thing as the ability to hear for granted. I recently learned just how important nonverbal communication is.
This past weekend, I attended the 2013 Sign-A-Thon at The Mall at Robinson, hosted by HDS, the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services. This was an event that allowed deaf, hard-of-hearing, deafblind, and hearing persons to come together, talk, and learn from each other.
Some had attended in hopes of practicing signing, others to meet up with long-lost friends. I had attended purely out of interest.
I had first became intrigued by the power of signing when my family started to use it in order to communicate with my nephew before he was able to talk. Though I found it fascinating that so much could be spoken through minimal movement, it wasn't until later that I would begin to understand what it would be like without the ability to hear. When I started working at VITAC, it occurred to me just how much I don't know about the hard-of-hearing population and how much there is to learn, realizing quickly that the most subtle of all changes in text can dramatically change the meaning of what's being said. The same applies when it comes to signing.
At one point during the course of the Sign-A-Thon, I took a look around me to see dozens of conversations being had and not a single word being spoken. What a truly amazing sight it was! The one sight I will ever forget is that of a man who was both deaf and blind having a conversation with another man. When it was this man's turn to listen, he would raise his hands and feel the other man's signs among his fingers. They talked and laughed they way I would with one of my oldest friends.
A central stage was set up that was used for four hours of nonstop entertainment. There were many performers that kept their audience's attention while grabbing the eyes of passersby. Some groups interpreted songs and danced, while others told stories or acted out famous characters from their favorite films. They even had some silly contests including a cup-stacking competition and a good, old-fashioned mummy-wrap race.
Alongside the ongoing entertainment, there were numerous booths and vendors offering information on different services for the hard-of-hearing around the City of Pittsburgh. Some booths offered opportunities for those learning to sign to practice, while others were simply helping to spread awareness about the deaf, deafblind, and hard-of-hearing communities.
Sign language may be just a way of communicating for some, but to me, seemed more like a true art-form. It was a great event that really opened my eyes and helped me to appreciate my job, our company, and the services that we provide.
by Marissa Grubb
Posted on: 4/11/2013 9:12:27 AM
As part of our continued investment in infrastructure and technology, VITAC is upgrading the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) in our Canonsburg, PA headquarters. The UPS powers all core critical electrical equipment in the company and allows VITAC to function normally for up to 30 minutes in a total power loss, during which time the diesel generator kicks in. It also guards our headquarters from electrical surges.
The new 50,000-watt UPS is "the most state of the art system on the market," according to Tim Taylor, VP Engineering and Facility Operations, who has 30 years experience in the captioning industry.
The cutover from the old to new UPS will occur on Monday, April 15th, 12-1 pm. During this time, all mission-critical equipment will remain functional and customers will be able to reach us by phone and email. Most importantly, there will be no service interruptions during this time period. Our Systems and Engineering teams have created detailed plans to ensure a seamless transition.
What does this mean to the customer? It means that VITAC is a cutting-edge caption company, dedicated to investing in the quality of our service and technology.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us:
VITAC's Sales & Client Services Team
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