Change of Speaker
[Latest Blog and News]
Posted on: 7/12/2013 2:42:30 PM
The storm system that pummeled the Rust Belt and Midwest Wednesday, floating cars and flooding paths and roadways, could have spelled disaster for VITAC's hilltop headquarters and command center. With power outages throughout the region, not to mention closures of major tunnels and thoroughfares, VITAC's extensive electrical and communication equipment could have easily been at the mercy of the tempest -- not to mention our 15-dish satellite farm, capable of receiving any broadcast television channel on earth. Even Google, perhaps coincidentally, experienced outages on that Wednesday morning, much to the ire of internet users and YouTube viewers in West Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska and Georgia.
As the VITAC motto goes, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night..." -- well, that's what it should be maybe! Regardless, the VITAC headquarters, home to our fortress of MLS, Offline and Realtime talent and equipment, held up like a champion despite torrents of rain, wind, lightning, and generally Old-Testament weather conditions. The lights flickered, the windows rattled, but never did the power go out...or even come close! (Photo: Ominous rain cloud over our Canonsburg, PA, headquarters on Wednesday.)
One of the heroes of this story is VITAC's new UPS system, which stands for "Uninterruptible Power Supply." 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. It allows VITAC to operate for up to 30 minutes in the event of a total power loss, until the diesel generator kicks in (this usually only takes about five minutes). The power never did go out at HQ, a testament to the reliability that is characteristic of VITAC.
Posted on: 7/8/2013 12:34:57 PM
Caption sponsorship is an innovative and affordable way to get your message to the millions of Americans who watch captions on TV every day. Select a program for sponsorship, and your message will appear in the captions right before or right after a commercial break once every hour. Research shows that caption viewers pay attention to and develop brand loyalty to companies that sponsor captioning.
Hint: Sponsorship is especially good for sporting events that are watched in high-noise environments, like sports bars and restaurants, often with the captions on! Perfect for the ongoing and upcoming sports seasons!
Who watches the captions?
- 36 million deaf or hard-of-hearing Americans who rely on captions
- 40 million people who belong to health clubs
- 7.6 million people learning English as a second language who use captions to improve their vocabulary
- Millions watching captioned TV in sports bars, airports, and other venues
- Service members -- Hearing loss is the most prevalent injury among recent veterans; 150,000 new cases reported by the VA in 2011.
Consider how many people you could reach through caption sponsorship, and at a fraction of the cost of a regular broadcast TV ad! Prices range from $900-$1200 per broadcast.
Posted on: 7/2/2013 12:45:30 PM
Any loyal YouTuber knows that the site is the immensely dynamic, shuffling videos in and out of availability on a constant basis according to owners' rights, and users' demands. Its own statistic estimates that 100 hours of content are uploaded every minute to the page by users worldwide; Likewise, content that is copyrighted or obscene is removed within hours. In such a rapidly changing environment, what does the video sharing site do to make so much media accessible?
- Automatic captions -- To ensure that the massive volume of content that is uploaded every minute has some degree of captioning, Google, YouTube's owner, has made admirable advancements in its speech-recognition software. The technology is built to recognize the speaker's language and provide accurate caption text based on what the speaker is saying. In theory, this should allow every video to be captioned, without so much as a push of a button from the video owners. However the technology is a work in progress and suffers from noticable, regular glitches -- the automatic captions are often ridiculed by uninformed internet users for their extreme, naughty, ironic, or just plain funny goofs. Granted, speech-recognition has been in development for years, and like Siri of iPhone fame and my dog Marvin, it is designed for loyalty to one voice only. A tall order for the vast multitude of languages, dialects, and accents that exist on this earth, not to mention videos with poor-quality audio!
- Auto-syncing -- YouTube users who have a basic transcript of their video file (meaning just text, without timecodes for when each sentence should appear on-screen) can enter the text in the video manager of their account, and YouTube will automatically match the words to the audio. This places the burden of accurate spelling and correct transcription on the video owner, and the timing on YouTube. Division of labor -- I love it! Yet the technology often gets distracted by ambient noise and poor sound quality. I tried this technique with a video of Matisyahu's "One Day" playing at a mall, entering the lyrics in the appropriate field, YouTube eventually gave up on the sync, telling me simply "Track content is not processed." Admittedly, the audio was poor. This technique is perfect for a single speaker, speaking directly into the camera in an indoor environment.
- Creation of a timed, accurate caption file -- If one wants a professional, high-quality YouTube video, he or she would do well to have it captioned by a professional, high-quality service. VITAC has extensive experience creating timed, placed, and accurate caption files for YouTube users intent on making their content shine. Not only does it reflect well on the user's video, it improves the SEO for his or her page, making the content more searchable through sites like Google. VITAC can produce caption files for Google in a number of file formats, including SRT, SCC, and CAP. These files can then be easily uploaded to YouTube by the user. These captions come in nearly any format you see on TV, including center-placed pop-on (which is movable by clicking on the captions in the video and dragging them), roll-up, and placed pop-on, where the captions appear next to the speaker. The result is accessible media that matches the quality of the content.
As YouTube continues to improve its captioning software, VITAC is always standing by to accomodate new possibilities and better serve the client. Please visit VITAC's caption YouTube page for information on how to get your YouTube video captioned.
Posted on: 6/28/2013 1:38:36 PM
Cartoon-as-adult-comedy is not a new format -- The Simpsons has been doing it successfully for 24 seasons, inspiring spin-offs such as Family Guy, South Park, the now-defunct King of the Hill, and spinoff-of-a-spinoff, The Cleveland Show, focusing on that character from Seth MacFarlane's Fox comedy. Clearly the concept has been influential: in 2001, Cartoon Network, previously a child-targetting channel, introduced Adult Swim, a lineup of cartoon and claymation comedys intended for young men and women (but especially men) looking for edgier cable programming. Bizarro comedys such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a cartoon featuring interactions between Food-opomporphic beings (a milkshake and a bearded french fry container) and humans became wildly popular for their adult edge and cartoonish wackiness.
Discovery's HUB network, launched in 2010 in cooperation with game-maker Hasbro, has provided cable viewers with the latest unique spinoff of the theme. The network is a blend of cult comedy, nostalgia, and cornball humor that blurs the line between kids programming and content for an older demographic. Shows such as My Little Pony are clearly written for young audiences, but have since caught the interest of a few unexpected groups, including frat boys (see Urban Dictionary entry). Live action content, such as The Aquabats Super Show, which follows a troupe of dimwitted heroes/bandmates in bad moustaches, is fun for kids because it is ridiculous, and relatable to any guy-in-a-middleaged-garageband. (The Aquabats are also a band in real life, singing legit rock songs that are marginally funny.) And who can foget the hour-long '90s Man of Steel dramedy, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures?
But the best part of HUB's lineup is the nostalgia factor. Classics such as Animaniacs, which tirelessly drops '90s pop-culture references to Bill Clinton* and the Lakers, is zany and fun for the kids, and harkens back to the early internet age, when now-adults were still using computers primarily to play Oregon Trail. Likewise, Batman: The Animated Series, which aired from 1992-1995, has a base of now-25-30-year-olds who watched it as children, and can now possibly watch it with their children. R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour, drops the name of the serial children's horror writer popular in the '90s, a clear call-out to nostalgics from that era. In rebooting retro TV, HUB has found harmony in catering as much to the kid as to the kid at heart.
Missing from HUB's lineup -- the gross-out factor. Where South Park relies on gore and poop-jokes for much of its humor, and even the relatively tame Simpsons refers frequently to beer and drug humor, the HUB remains admirably wholesome, using tongue-in-cheek humor and cuture-savvy themes to stir up entertainment. Even Dan Vs., a show about a 20-something malcontent and his various beefs, possibly HUB's most blatantly adult-oriented show, rarely descends into gutter humor. It is heart that makes HUB shows what they are, and what makes them irreplacable even in the copy-and-paste market of adult-targeted cartoons. Best of all, VITAC's Offline Department captions them all!
*It is a proven fact that in Canada, the Animaniacs theme song substitutes "And Bill Clinton plays the sax" with "We pay lots of sales tax." So culturally aware!
Posted on: 6/26/2013 4:40:29 PM
Tomorrow marks the beginning of the four day, Hearing Loss Association's 28th Annual Convention and Trade Show, held in the City of Roses, Portland Oregon! The event is a combination of celebration, state-of-affairs discussion panel, gadget and technology show space, and even an awards show. The event will take place at the Oregon Convention Center -- the brochure features welcome messages from notables such as Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
Perhaps one of the coolest aspects of the program is the rich array of workshops from themes such as "Traveling the Globe with Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implants" and "Hearing Loss and
Intimacy: Is it a Help or a Hindrance?" All seem very stimulating! The best way to get a feel for the entire program is to check out the schedule, linked below.
The convention promises to be a good time, and while it is natuarally dedicated to the Deaf and hard of hearing folks out there, all are welcome to come along and witness the festivites.
If you live in Portland, check it out. If not, take a look at the full program here.
How many children where in your family growing up?
There were three children in my family. I have a twin sister and an older sister.
What was it like where you grew up?
Small town with a lot of farms and cornfields.
Where is your favorite place in the world? Why?
I've been tubing, white water rafting and hiking inthe Smokey Mountains when I lived in
Tennessee. It's peaceful and beautiful.
What makes you laugh?
Thinking about my first roommate. We thought we were so cool when we were 18. When we moved into an apartment together, she was showing off in front of the boys that were helping us move. For some reason, she tried to jump over an open cupboard and ripped it off its hinges. Years later, I still crack up thinking about that. Why did she think she could jump that high?
What scares you the most?
Tornadoes! Three years ago, an EF-4 hit and destroyed my nieces' school. It leveled most of the houses one street away from my parents.
If you could have lunch with anyone in history (living or dead), who would it be?
Rachel Carson, the scientist and conservationist who wrote "Silent Spring." She was brave and brilliant.
What do you like most about working at VITAC?
I appreciate that my co-workers have the same attention to detail in their captioning work
that I do.
To learn more about Arianne's interests, visit:
Posted on: 6/4/2013 5:54:15 PM
The avid reader may recall VITAC's post from December 2011 about closed captioning for in-flight entertainment systems, provided by companies like Florida based LiveTV. One might expect that the industry would want to follow suit, to keep up with the industry, yet the update available at this time is that...there is no update. Though all broadcast TV content has required captions for years, and some IP-delivered content now must be accessible, too, content delivered in-flight on passenger jets is still inaccessible to Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa recently introduced a bill to congress called the "Air Carrier Access Amendments Act" and would require captioning and audio description for in-flight programming. Though the request sounds basic, it has yet to be adopted by most airlines (it should be noted that many airlines do offer this service, though these instances are limited). The bill is an amendment to a 1986 law that prohibits commerical airlines from discriminating against those with physical or mental disabilities. Yet the bill has only a 2% chance of making it out of committee at this time (it is in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as well as the Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee) and a 0% chance of becoming law. Zero percent!
An alternative approach, preferred by captioning advocate Jamie Berke, is to appeal to corporations themselves, rather than government regulation. The smaller size and streamlined processes of a corporate entity allow customers rather than constituents exact change. The next step in the fight for commercial airline traffic, perhaps, is appealing directly to the airlines themselves.
Though the bill is effectively DOA, its message is no less valid! 50 Million Deaf and hard of hearing Americans rely on captioning by companies like VITAC to access television and internet content. They do not receive discount rates on flights because the content is not accessible to them. One hopes that in the future, a bill like this will gather more steam and become law.
Posted on: 5/29/2013 1:28:41 PM
The State of Oklahoma has instituted a groundbreaking system for alerting Deaf and hard of hearing residents of impending disasters like the tornado that recently ravished th City of Moore. The system is called OK-WARN, which is an acronym for "Oklahoma Weather Alert Remote Notification," and involves sending Deaf residents stormwarnings on alphanumeric pagers. (An alphanumeric pager shows letters as well as numbers.) The National Weather Service sends automatic warnings when extreme weather is about to happen, alerting the Deaf population in a way that sirens cannot.
"We are excited to be a part of this important effort," Meteorologist Richard Smith said. "Weather can turn dangerous quickly in Oklahoma, and it's critical that everyone be able to receive life-saving warnings from the National Weather Service."
The service is free, though participants need to own their own pager, which can be purchased for as little as $30, and a $7 monthly service plan for the pager.
You can find more about the OK-WARN program here.
Lead Traffic Coordinator
Where were you born and raised? How many siblings?
I'm a Pittsburgh native. I am a twin. (I'm the oldest by 5 minutes.) My mom didn't even know she was having twins until delivery.
Were you involved in sports, music, drama or other extra-curricular activities?
I played soccer from first grade to High School. I was also on a swim team from 10 to 14 years old.
What are some of the crazy fads you and your friends participated in?
Grunge! Flannel and all.
What is your fondest High School memory?
Winning an indoor soccer tournament.
What was your first job?
Hostess at Eat 'N Park.
Where is your favorite place in the world? Why?
I love to visit Deep Creek, Maryland. It's absolutely beautiful in the mountains. You can jet ski and play in the lake. Very serene.
What was your favorite sitcom growing up?
Wasn't really a fan of sitcoms but I loved to watchgame shows. The Price Is Right and Press Your Luck are two of my favorites.
What do you like most about working at VITAC?
I like that we provide a service. Our clients and my coworkers are great. I like that there is a new challenge every day.
To learn mor about Tara's interests, visit:
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. The result of VITAC's above-and-beyond effort is about what you would expect -- quality captions. The best way to fully appreciate good captioning is by watching poor captioning, such as YouTube video with the automatic Google captions. Some companies even outsource their offline captioning to India, and the difference shows. 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
Search by Date
Search Title by Keyword