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Progress in Air Travel Accessibility -- Captioning In-Flight

Posted on: 6/4/2013 5:54:15 PM under Blog 


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 ratheA jet without captioningr 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.



Emergency Alerts for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Posted on: 5/29/2013 1:28:41 PM under Blog 


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.



Tara Nalepa

Posted on: 5/20/2013 10:28:33 AM under Employee Spotlights » Current 


Lead Traffic Coordinator
Est. 2004
Canonsburg, PA









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:



Why Caption Quality Matters

Posted on: 5/16/2013 4:40:49 PM under Blog 


VITAC CaptioningIn 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 communicVITAC Captioningate 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 VITAC Captioningschool. 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, VITAC Captioningexcept 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 accoVITAC Captioningmplishment 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 restauVITAC Captioningrants, 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 1VITAC Captioning% 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



On Deaf Bias

Posted on: 5/14/2013 5:48:32 PM under News 


The following blog post, from, 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.



Orange is the New Black...also with VITAC Captioning!

Posted on: 5/2/2013 1:24:16 PM under Blog 


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?



House of Cards with VITAC Captioning

Posted on: 5/1/2013 2:00:21 PM under Blog 


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!



Realtime Scheduler Appreciation Day!

Posted on: 4/26/2013 2:07:21 PM under Unsung Hero 


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!



Teen News Show Takes the Emmy! Captioning by VITAC

Posted on: 4/24/2013 3:29:19 PM under Blog 


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!



VITAC Homepage Redesign

Posted on: 4/19/2013 3:19:30 PM under Blog 


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:

It is a fresher, more modern look for America's biggest and foremost captioning company. To everyone who helped out, we say "Thanks!"


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