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VITAC's Celebration with WPSD

Posted on: 1/3/2014 11:50:12 AM under News 


Last month, VITAC got to celebrate the holiday season with our long-time friends at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood. The purpose of the visit was to present the winners of our annual art contest -- now 23 years running -- with their prizes, as well as to see the fantastic production of their holiday play, the theme of which was Christmas in Australia.

Each year for the art contest, WPSD students decorate art according to a theme. This year's theme was holiday stockings. Participants' artwork arrived at VITAC headquarters, where our employees voted for the best works in each of three age categories. Pictured are the nine winners including the eight who received $25 cash and the Grand Winner, who got $50 cash and copies of the printed holiday card with their artwork on the front. All the winners' art works were featured on VITAC's holiday e-card.

The play was a fantastic original production that featured an MC, Santa Claus fielding students' holiday wishes, and many white kangaroos to pull Santa's sleigh, among many other spectacles. The entire production was both spoken and signed, and had the entire audience entertained throughout.

The artwork can be seen in full size on the holiday card. We look forward to continuing the holiday tradition with our WPSD friends next year!



Merry Christmas from Our Friends at HDS!

Posted on: 12/24/2013 10:14:45 AM under News 


From everyone at VITAC, have a very Merry Christmas! May your holiday be filled with peace, love and joy.

A few weeks ago, the clients and administrators at Pittsburgh Hearing and Deaf Services impressed us all with this American Sign Language rendition of holiday favorite "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" at their annual holiday party. They also treated us to a festive celebration of food, friends and gifts -- a good time was had by all!

Please enjoy this performance!




Check Out Our 2013 Holiday Card!

Posted on: 12/20/2013 5:39:54 PM under News 


Presenting the 2013 VITAC holiday card, featuring art from Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf students. See which students won the contest...and also check out who was the recipient of VITAC's annual holiday donation!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all your friends at VITAC!




Christmas Celebration with HDS

Posted on: 12/13/2013 12:51:14 PM under News 


On Thursday December 12, VITAC continued a time-honored tradition with the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services, celebrating the holiday season in their downtown Pittsburgh location. The celebration included a delicious array of soups and delicacies, as well as delicious homemade chocolate-covered pretzels, muffins, and cookies. There was singing, laughter and fun all around!

A crew of HDS musicians performed a sign-language rendition of "Here Comes Santa Claus" (see future blog post for video of this). Then the VITAC team presented our HDS friends with gifts from their holiday wish lists, which included a variety of awesome items from bobbleheads, to spy gear, to a spiffy pair of shoes! HDS presented VITAC with some equally cool holiday cookie kits -- large, colorfully decorated jars filled with all of the fixings for baking chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies. We're sure they will be delicious!

The whole event was a lot of fun, and the only regret was that we couldn't stay longer. We look forward to seeing our HDS compadres again next year, same time, same place! Thank you so much to HDS for hosting our fantastic visit!

To see the full album of our holiday celebration, visit our Facebook page.



VITAC to Caption State Department Hangout on Disability Rights

Posted on: 12/4/2013 2:49:49 PM under News 


For 27 years, VITAC has been supporting disability rights through our ever-expanding catalog of media accessibility services. Our dedication to caption quality is part of the reason why we have been entrusted with the captioning for events such as the 2012 London Olympics, both inaugurations of President Obama, as well as many others.

VITAC is pleased to add to this prestigious list of events the U.S. State Department Google+ Hangout, "Going For Gold: Advancing International Disability Rights," which will occur today at 1:00pm EST on the State Department's Google+ page and YouTube channel.

As the name suggests, the topic of discussion will be international rights of disabled persons, and will feature gold medal figure skater Michelle Kwan, Special Advisor for International Rights of Persons with Disabilities Judith Heumann, and representatives from the U.S. Paralympic teams. The specific topics of discussion will include the challenges of living with a disability, including the perspective of those who have overcome their disability to train and compete internationally -- the Paralympians.

The event is open to the public and can be viewed live on the U.S. Department of State's Google+ page and YouTube channel. Streaming captions for the event can be viewed here on any desktop, laptop, or mobile device.



40th Anniversary of the Captioned News

Posted on: 12/3/2013 5:50:03 PM under News 


Forty years ago today, on December 3, 1973, The Captioned ABC Evening News first aired at 11:00pm on PBS, becoming the first regularly scheduled, captioned TV program. The show was a rebroadcast of The ABC Evening News, which aired at 6:00pm the same day, captioned for the benefit of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.

Unlike the news today, the original Captioned ABC Evening News was not captioned using live stenocaptioners, but recorded from the 6:00pm broadcast and captioned at a furious pace by a team of five people: the first listened to an audio recording of the program and made notes about the timing of news reports and commercial breaks. The second person began transcribing the beginning of the broadcast as soon as the first commercial break began. After a short time, a third and fourth team member began reviewing the initial captions and captioning the first commercial breaks, respectively; the fifth person was responsible for checking captions for readability, ensuring that they were true to the meaning of the broadcast and written to no higher than a sixth-grade reading level. Finally, the team assembled and reviewed the entire file, establishing caption placement and determining appropriate display speed. In only five hours, the captioned news broadcast had to be ready for air.

The captions and the broadcast itself were geared much more heavily toward a deaf audience than programming today. Captioners edited program audio to eliminate passive verbs, substitute easier-to-pronounce synonyms for long words, and restate idioms that may be confusing to a deaf audience. The production team replaced the six minutes of advertising in the half-hour show with miscellaneous programming such as a "deaf events" segment and a "deaf history" bit. Less than a year after the first broadcast, 56 stations nationwide had adopted The Captioned ABC Evening News. Soon, however, technology caught up, and by the early '80s, with the development of realtime captioning for news broadcasts, The Captioned ABC Evening News was all but obsolete.

The formerly painstaking captioning process has since been streamlined and automated. News shows are now captioned live by skilled stenocaptioners "writing" up to 240 words per minute. For offline content, computer software determines what caption display time is sufficient and automatically checks spelling.  Verbatim captioning has long since replaced the practice of simplifying complex language in the broadcast, and today, edits between program audio and caption files are reserved mostly for speech stutters and unusually fast audio.

For a technology that is just now over the hill, we've come a long way!

by Carlin Twedt



VITAC Captions Municipal Events

Posted on: 11/26/2013 12:44:50 PM under News 


VITAC is the nation's leading provider of accessible media services, and captions some of the most-watched content on TV and the web. However, broadcast TV is by no means the extent of VITAC's accessible media contributions. In fact, one area of VITAC's growth may not involve broadcast media at all.

A growing contingent of municipal and government groups, including city councils, county councils, and other community groups, are beginning to realize the advantages of closed captioning. Many are turning to VITAC to make their council meetings accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and VITAC is more than able to accept the challenge. Our Realtime and Offline Departments already provide various captioning and transcription services across the country for both major metropolitan areas and smaller government entities. These captions -- whether they are for city council meetings or special town-hall events -- can be delivered over a television broadcast, or simply displayed in the room in which the meeting occurs. The availability of smart phones and tablets has increased the value of municipal meeting captioning, as each entity can opt for web captions, which can be streamed to any mobile device.

The advantages of captioning council meetings extend beyond the accessibility advantages made available to the deaf and hard-of-hearing population. Just like a courtroom, a realtime transcript of a meeting provides an instantaneous record of what someone said and when, allowing the meeting participants to go back to the official record as necessary. This transcript can be used for archival purposes and indexing, allowing interested parties to look up quotable moments and talking points with just a simple word processer.

For more information about having a municipal meeting captioned, call (724) 514-4077 or email



VITAC to Caption Project Bundle-Up Telethon

Posted on: 11/22/2013 5:15:28 PM under News 


This holiday season, VITAC will be donating its realtime captioning services for the annual Project Bundle-Up telethon.

Project Bundle-Up is a joint effort between the Salvation Army and WTAE channel 4 Pittsburgh that raises money each year for disadvantaged children to stock up on warm winter gear. By hosting events such as an online auction, a New Year's Day polar bear plunge, and an annual telethon, Project Bundle-Up raises funds for its shopping days, where the program's beneficiaries get to pick out new cold-weather clothes -- with the help of some very cool TV and sports celebrities! It has been in operation since 1986 -- the same year that VITAC was founded -- and benefits 7,500 children annually.

VITAC is proud to be a part of Project Bundle-Up and encourages everyone to check their listings in December, when the telethon will air (air date TBD). In addition to Project Bundle-Up, VITAC will be sharing gifts with patrons of the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services during their holiday celebration, and holding a holiday art competition for students at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Stay tuned for more holiday updates!



Captions for Your Phone

Posted on: 11/19/2013 2:28:38 PM under News 


As an alternative to caption relay services for the deaf and hard of hearing, there is a telephone that will automatically caption the incoming dialogue on your land line. Amplified captioned telephones have a monitor that transcribes the dialogue from the other end of the connection in a high-contrast, large-print screen. If the user is not there to pick up, some models of the phone will even record a message in text!

The service is free, though it requires an internet connection. The phone itself costs less than $100. Unlike a video relay service, the monitor does not display video of a live person using sign language to communicate, but displays only text. Yet like video relay, captioned telephone service does have a delay, so it helps if the user identifies the fact that they are using the service. Captions are input by voice recognition software, but checked manually by a real person to ensure an accurate transcription.

One great advantage that captioned telephones share with captioned TV is the ability to archive content. Unlike a traditional phone conversation, a captioned telephone will save a transcript of the conversation for future reference, just as a caption file of a meeting or live event can be archived and searched for future re-use. Very useful!



VITAC Provides Audio Description for Halloween Classic

Posted on: 10/29/2013 10:34:11 AM under News 


VITAC, in conjunction with the American Council of the Blind's Audio Description Project, announced today the release of 1922 Halloween classic "Nosferatu" with audio description. The project is meant to celebrate both the federally mandated accessibility service for blind and low-vision audiences -- audio description -- and the Halloween season. The film is available with audio description and captioning on VITAC's website and YouTube page, and will be broadcast as a described audio track on ACBRadio at 9:00 pm EDT on Halloween at

"Nosferatu," about a Dracula-like character who spreads terror and pestilence through the protagonist's hometown before his lust for blood destroys him, is the fourth installment of VITAC and the ACB's series of audio described Halloween programs.

"We're excited to present an accessible version of what Roger Ebert called 'One of the greatest of all silent films,'" said Heather York, VP Marketing for VITAC. "As with all programming, we feel that 'Nosferatu' should be accessible to everyone, and we encourage sighted people to watch and enjoy the movie alongside their blind or low-vision friends."

Sometimes known as "video description" or "descriptive video service," audio description is a voiceover track mixed with a program's primary audio, in which a narrator describes significant on-screen images and events. The FCC requires 4 hours of audio description per week on top-25-market affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as on the top 5 cable networks -- Disney, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, and USA.

To describe "Nosferatu," VITAC partnered with Audio Description Associates, an accessible media group that provides audio description for a broad array of television and live performance events (theater, opera, and dance), as well as museum exhibits, meetings, tours, circuses, parades, and sporting events.

"Providing audio description for 'Nosferatu' was a pleasure," says Dr. Joel Snyder, President of Audio Description Associates, who described the video and directs ACB's Audio Description Project. "It challenged me to make an intricate plot accessible without the aid of dialogue, and allowed me to bring the movie to life for an audience that lacks access to the visual image, whether blind or just in the next room."

Previous films in the series include 2012's Popeye episode "Fright to the Finish," 2011's cult favorite "Carnival of Souls," and 2010's zombie classic "Night of the Living Dead." However, unlike previous years, "Nosferatu" is a silent film, lending greater significance of the audio description to blind and low-vision viewers.


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