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Posted on: 2/28/2013 5:47:49 PM
"Same-language subtitling doubles the number of functional readers among primary school children." -Bill Clinton via Nielsen Company
Read Captions Across America (RCAA) day, observed on March 1st 2013, is a celebration of an important yet seldom-acknowledged resource available to anyone with a TV -- the use of closed captions to promote literacy in deaf and hearing individuals alike. It is sponsored by the National Association of the Deaf and works in conjunction with the National Education Association's Read Across America day, also observed on March 1st, the day before Dr. Seuss' 109th birthday. We sat down with Bill Stark of the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), a self-described evangelist for the benefits of watching captioned TV, to talk about the day and its meaning.
Bill's stance on how to celebrate the day is simple -- "Dress up, have fun, be wacky," says Bill, "Turn those captions on." RCAA day encourages students to dress up in tall read-and-white hats and whiskers on Friday, in the style of the famed Cat in the Hat, read together, and watch videos of Dr. Seuss books -- or anything -- with the captions. The event also has an interactive element, and students are encouraged to write birthday cards to Dr. Seuss that include the name of the captioned media title they watched, which they will then send to the DCMP or simply hang around their school.
Indeed, the message RCAA day promotes is a good one. While many emerging readers may see reading as a chore, almost all of them watch TV, sometimes for hours on end. What better way, then, to get kids to read but to incorporate it into something they want to do? Exposure to captioned dialogue has been proven to improve reading, spelling and verbal skills in young readers, as it delivers information both visually and audibly. Nor are captions reserved for TV viewers -- many internet videos have captions available, and as of March 31, even more will be required to offer captions, in accordance with new FCC mandates.
Beside teaching literacy in a new way, RCAA day also serves to unify deaf and hearing students through jointly participating in caption-watching, which is too often regarded as a "deaf activity." In the Stark household, watching TV with the captions on is so engrained in the family protocol that Bill could not imagine watching TV any other way. So why doesn't everybody do it? "There is a stigma involved, similar to the stigma of wearing a hearing aid," Bill said, adding that to many, watching TV with captions is an admission of one's inability to hear.
Yet many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals frown upon terms such as "inability" and "disability." Deaf and hard-of-hearing students often spend the entire school day in classrooms, learning and engaging with hearing students, rather than learning in a special-education classroom for part or all of it. When the teacher shows video materials for the class, he or she is faced with the task of not only finding captioned videos (older videos, especially, may not be captioned) and simply remembering to turn those captions on. In a class of 20-30 students, the teacher could easily forget the one or two students who need captions more than the others, and to publicly request captions may be embarrassing for those students. Rather than ostracizing one or several deaf student by turning on the captions "for them," Bill (who himself is a professional educator) suggests that teacher should always turn on the captions.
Bill has made it his personal mission to promote this simple concept, encouraging fellow teachers to incorporate captions into their lessons, promoting the event through the RCAA website, and even convincing his car dealer, a non-native English speaker, to turn on the captions on his TV to learn the language. He points out that many star athletes in America call a different country home, and often enough, when reporters ask how they are learning English, they often have the same answer: "By watching TV." Bill is so confident in the benefits of viewing TV programs with the captions on, that he believes captions be burned into the picture for every show, not just optional by pressing the CC button on the remote. "I told you I was an evangelist," he said.
Lest Mr. Stark be disappointed when Read Captions Across America day has passed, the entire month of March brings a new theme and a new mission for Bill. March is Listening Awareness month, brought to you in part by the lovable spokesperson, fennec fox, and with it, yet another way to watch TV -- with audio description!
by Carlin Twedt
Where were you born and raised? When is the last time you were there?
I was born in Pittsburgh, PA but grew up in Greensburg, PA. I don't live far from there now. My parents still live in Greensburg so I visit frequently.
How many children were in your family? Where were you in the line up?
It's just my sister and I; I'm the baby in the family. While growing up, I spent a lot of time with my cousins. I was always the smallest child so I got picked on a lot. My sister and cousins wanted apples from a tree one time, so they threw me up into the tree.
Where you involved in sports, music, drama or other extra-curricular activities?
I was never very good at sports. When I was younger, I was very involved in theatrical
productions. I wasn't an actor. I always did behind the scenes things.
What is your fondest High School memory?
At my high school, there was a lady hall monitor that hated me. I was always wandering around without a hall pass, and I'd skip school to go to work. This lady would look for me throughout the day. But, I befriended the janitors and lunch ladies so they would let me know were the hall monitor was so that I wouldn't get caught.
At work, who makes you laugh the most? Why?
My co-workers are pretty hilarious. It would be hard for me to pick one particular person. We all have a similar sense of humor and a lot of jokes. A lot of times, you only have to say a few words and six people around you will know what you are talking about and start to crack up.
Who is the most famous person you ever met? How did you meet?
I met Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for the Foo Foo Fighters, in a random bar in Savannah, GA. He was just sitting there at the end of the bar, minding his own business. I didn't even notice him but my husband did. So we got our picture taken with him. We saw him walking around downtown the next day too.
To learn more about Ginetta's interests, visit:
Posted on: 2/22/2013 3:32:30 PM
Award season is almost over, and the stars' shelves are filling up with Grammys, Golden Globes, and SAG award trophies. With the Academy Awards airing Sunday night on ABC, we talked to Adrian Jonas, a realtime captioner of nearly 17 years on the preparation that goes into captioning an award show -- over 20 hours of research for a single event, not to mention the grueling 4+ hours for which the program airs!
A single captioner, like Adrian, "writes" -- or types the captions -- for the entire broadcast, from the red carpet to the end credits, which means he or she is responsible not only for knowing the names and proper spellings of actors, directors, movies, and fashion designers, but also the possible attendees and current events that might be mentioned during the broadcast. To ensure correct spellings of all proper nouns, the captioner researches such terms and adds them to a "dictionary," or an electronic reference list that has a one-to-three-keystroke shortcut to each preprogrammed term. That way, every word is spelled correctly and efficiently, with nothing lost in between.
For example, anyone can spell "Beasts of the Southern Wild," but what about the film's star, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis? For that, a captioner makes a brief to turn the 16-letter name into a 1-keystroke cinch. If a host mentions '50s TV star Zsa Zsa Gabor, or a name not programmed into the captioner's dictionary, the captioner has to "finger-spell" the name, trading his or her stenography machine for a traditional keyboard. This, of course, takes valuable time, which is why a captioner tries to incorporate everything into his or her dictionary.
After graduating from court reporting school (which has a 90% dropout rate) Adrian and her fellow VITAC realtime captioners go through a training regimen called "boot camp" under the direction of veteran captioner Amy Bowlen. Once they pass this rigorous training, the captioners are largely responsible for their own process. "There are no 10 steps to live captioning," says Adrian, whose process is fairly simple -- immaculate organization, exhaustive research and hours of practice for a single award show.
In preparation, a realtime captioner references newspapers, entertainment shows, and websites like imdb.com to find miscellaneous events that may come up in the show. For example, Hollywood buzz from the internet reports that Seth McFarlane, the host, is going to sing a duet at some point Sunday night. Whether his number will be a classic number, a Lady Gaga cover, or an original, the captioner will know to have a lyrics websites close at hand so he or she can get the words right at the big moment. The captioner receives an advance briefing from the show's producers, but it may arrive only hours before the broadcast, and the details are limited. Adrian also goes above and beyond by practicing in advance, writing Oscar buzz shows on her home steno machine. Elements of her method are even used as an example in new captioners' boot camp training!
VITAC is unique in that some of our realtime captioners have the ability to write shows from our headquarters. This is an advantage if something unexpected occurs to interrupt the captioner's groove. In case of a failed internet connection, a power outage, or a meteor strike, captioners like Adrian have a team of highly experienced production coordinators to assist her. "I could flip switches, and someone would come running down the hall," Adrian says that kind of immediate support is unique to VITAC. She also cites the impressive control room as a benefit, as she has several different monitors and connections at her fingertips. All VITAC captioners are employees, not subcontractors, which ensures a client with so many redundancies that we can guarantee 99.9% uptime in our realtime broadcasts.
What about the final 24 hours before show time? "Get a good night's sleep, and eat well," says Adrian. "The first five minutes [of the broadcast] are the most difficult," she says, which is why she warms up for a few minutes before her captions air.
There are only two certainties when it comes to an award show: nothing is certain, and Adrian and VITAC's crew will be delivering high-quality captions nonetheless!
by Carlin Twedt
Posted on: 2/20/2013 6:05:10 PM
Kenny Elder, a high school junior in Fresno, California, is proving once again that "hearing impairment" is not really an impairment at all. The McLane High School basketball player, who wears number 20, does not hear the whistle blow, but plays as well as any of them, helping lead his McLane Highlanders to a 17-6 start. A sign-language interpreter sits on the sidelines to assist him, but most of the time, he is on his own. He has also played wide receiver for the McLane Highlanders football team and in 2012 was ranked the 905th best player in California! The multi-talented athlete is well on his way to accomplishing his goal of playing basketball for Fresno State. Though an all-deaf basketball league is available to him, featuring teams like the London Beards, there is little -- if anything -- excluding Elder from the NCAA and even the NBA.
But for now, Kenny is a normal student who can likely be seen around school on his phone -- texting, rather than talking. Few of his classmates sign, so, like many in the hard-of-hearing community, he often relies on text rather than spoken words. A hearing individual may see closed captioning as irrelevant or even obtrusive when watching TV. But consider this -- the first printed book predates the printing press, invented in 1440. The first audio book (developed by the American Foundation for the Blind) did not exist until 1932!
There is no wrong way to perceive the world, but for those who have deafness, the quality of the senses available to them is vital. That is why VITAC strived to maintain its 99.9% live-captioning uptime rate and 99.9% offline accuracy rate -- for people like Kenny!
Posted on: 2/14/2013 1:41:23 PM
Discovery Channel programming is no stranger to popular culture. "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe has become a de facto hero of the working class, while popular rapper Macklemore busts rhymes about Shark Week (Discovery's shark marathon, celebrating 26 years in 2013). Now trending -- "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," which airs on Discovery HUB and is captioned by VITAC!
The animated show chronicles the follies of a group of pony friends who inhabit the magical land of Equestria. They spend their time learning life lessons and baking cakes, all the while becoming better friends. Aww. The half-hour show also serves as source material for a massive amount of fan fiction, memes, and other user-generated web content.
The show's most vocal following -- no, not the age-3-and-up demographic for whom it was intended -- but frat boys! They call themselves "bronies." College males across the country are watching the show in droves, and they aren't afraid to show it: the My Little Brony Facebook page has over 2,000 likes. The following even has its own convention! The BFF -- Brony Fan Fair -- will be held in Austin, Texas, this September. The appeal, speculates Wired magazine, lies in "good illustration, excellent characters or...a 'perfect storm of '80s nostalgia and cultural irony.'" But one cannot ignore the ghost in the machine, writer Lauren Faust, whose other work includes writing and storyboard for "The Powerpuff Girls." It is because of her that we get the glorious pony puns for which the program is known!
The puns are one of the mane pillars of the show and crop up frequently, often, and with predictable regularity. With names like the mare in the moon and Cloudsdale, the hovering horse city, who could resist indulging in a little broney-ism? Of course you will never miss one -- be it "NEIGHSAYERS" or "CANTERLOT" -- when you watch it with your VITAC closed captions.
Posted on: 2/11/2013 5:22:42 PM
One of the biggest questions of those unaquainted with the closed captioning world is the differences between offline captioning styles, of which there are many -- roll-up and pop-on are the most common but are by no means the only types of captions. The variables are nearly unlimited and include upper-/lower-case text, means of indicating speaker change, and placement of captions.
Be confused no longer, world! The 2013 style guide will show you the small but important distinctions between an ever-growing variety of captions.
Presenting for your education, the 2013 VITAC style guide!
Posted on: 2/7/2013 1:21:53 PM
As the US audiences continue to warm to the 3D movie experience and grow accustomed to wearing glasses in theaters, tech companies like Sony and EPSON and have developed a similar system to enhance the moviegoing experience for the deaf, hard of hearing, and those with vision loss. Entertainment access glasses (aka Moverio BT 100 glasses) consist of a stylish pair of specs and small, handheld box that select theaters provide upon request to make sure all movies are accessible to all audiences. Devices in the frames project captions -- programmed to sync with the movies' timecodes -- onto the lenses in a green display that the viewer can adjust to his or her preferred focus and display location. The glasses weigh 3 ounces and project six different languages. Impressive!
The set is different from the CaptiView, or rear-window, captioning system in that captions display in the viewer's natural line of vision, appearing to be embedded in the screen. The viewer does not have to lug hardware into the theater, freeing up their cup holder and the seat in front of them. Nor do they encounter the sidelong glances from fellow viewers at their hardware -- the eyewear hardly looks different than a standard pair of 3D glasses. The glasses are compatible with viewers' everyday eyeglasses, as well as 3D specs. For audio-description clientele, it includes a plug for the viewer's personal headphones. The system offers a better viewer experience and can be used by anyone! Try, for instance, watching a new release in a foreign language, such as one of the 45+ languages and dialects in which VITAC captions. Who knew that the new Judd Apatow flick could be so edifying?
Overall, the technology has been well received, with only a handful of complaints. The captions are sensitive to erratic head movements, though they adjust after a moment. Blogger Shanna Groves reviewed the new tech favorably, watching "The Life of Pi" in theaters and saying, "All in all, my movie experience was state-of-the-art, Oscar-caliber exciting. Until my nose flinched and I momentarily lost sight of the captions." The glasses are not yet available in every theater, but viewers can look up their closest cinema offering the service here.
Access glasses are available in Regal Theaters in the first quarter of 2013 -- now!
Posted on: 2/4/2013 3:23:08 PM
Nobody does cute quite like Animal Planet, and there's nothing better to cure the winter doldrums than Animal Planet's ninth annual Puppy Bowl, an event that has all the entertainment you could ask for from a bowl game but none of the ruffness of the gridiron. This past Sunday, with VITAC's closed captioning on their side to help them follow the action, viewers didn't miss one exciting pooch play or too-cute puppy pun.
Featuring hedgehog cheerleaders, a kitty half-time show, and numerous touchdowns replayed on the Cute Cam, the Puppy Bowl raised the bar on cute. On a snowy, blustery afternoon, who could resist the Kiss Cam, featuring humans planting smooches on their pooches and vice versa? Or Marta, the spunky Schnauzer/Beagle mix who gave the bigger boys such a challenge that she was voted Most Valuable Pup? And while the puppies played with impawsible furociousness, VITAC kept viewers' heads in the game with puptacular captions that illuminated the game play, helped make each of the adoptable pups memorable, and made sure no one missed an unnecessary ruffness foul.
Like Eli and Tuck, an unbeatable duo of German Shepherd/Pit bull pups named after a pair of New York Giants players, Animal Planet and VITAC proved to be an unstoppable team. With an incredible match-up like that, the puppies won, and so did the viewers.
Posted on: 2/1/2013 3:56:56 PM
It starts with "P" and rhymes with "uppy Bowl." Use the following hints as your guide.
Does it air on Super Bowl Sunday?
Will the word "Harbaugh" appear anywhere in the program?
Will anyone leave with a head injury?
Is it a hockey game?
Will you see the words "FUR-TASTIC" or "FUR-OCIOUS" appear in your closed captions?
Will Ray Lewis cry at the end of it?
Not that we will know of.
Is it adorable?
You guessed it! It's the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet! Captioned by VITAC!
Our first year of VITAC Employee Excellence Awards has come to a close. Announcing our fourth quarter winners:
Drew Blasingame, Client Sales and Services Supervisor
Drew was nominated by two colleagues, both of whom mentioned his ability coordinate complicated projects, dedication to our customers and willingness to step outside his job description to solve problems. Nearly all VITAC projects run through our Client Sales and Service Department and Drew often takes the lead as the evening supervisor, taking on "tricky and difficult projects that require an attention to detail and consistent follow-through." He was recognized specifically for "hard work and ability to communicate with clarity and precision a well-defined workflow and final product" for a complicated project from a new customer with little captioning experience or knowledge.
Mary Quinn, Realtime Captioner
Mary was nominated by a fellow captioner for going above and beyond as a team player. She goes out of her way to help cover the ever-changing schedule, helps colleagues with new software and terminology and take the time to show her appreciation for the VITAC realtime team. From "putting together extensive directions to make a process simple" to explaining new words she's come across while researching news, to organizing "gratitude" parties and Secret Santa events, Mary exhibits true employee excellence. She was also recognized for helping to educate the team with on VITAC's realtime scheduling and tracking system.
Carlin Twedt, Offline Captioner/Marketing Coordinator
Carlin was nominated for his "self-motivated training efforts." During offline's busiest time of year, "he went above and beyond to educate himself in subject matters that the organization values," by completing a series of classes in VITAC's new training library. He's taken everything from "Essentials of Great Leadership" to "Professional Email Etiquette" to MS Excel training, all in his spare time and to equip himself with the tools to navigate change. The biggest change will occur in January, as he is promoted to the position of Marketing Coordinator.
Congratulations to all nominees!
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