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National Court Reporting and Captioning Week

Posted on: 2/18/2014 5:33:07 PM under News 


The week of February 16-22 celebrates the contributions of court reporters and captioners and all the benefits we gain from their hard work. Not only do court reporters provide realtime transcripts of courtroom and legislative proceedings, they also "write" all of the live content (especially sports and news) that we watch on TV today -- including all content for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which are captioned exclusively by VITAC -- a service that benefits over 50 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.

The profession of court reporting traces back to one of the philosopher Cicero's slaves, who developed a shorthand method for quickly taking down Cicero's thoughts. Since then, the trade has developed, and now utilizes electronic, 22-key stenography machines, which type syllables instead of single characters, allowing court reporters to write at an average of 250 words per minute (the world record stands at 360 words per minute). However the improved technology does not do all the work. The skill is extremely difficult, and only about 10-15% of court reporting students graduate. Of that 10%, only about 10% are accepted into the closed captioning circuit.

Aside from the daily contributions court reporters and captioners provide, there is a historical benchmark that they currently fulfill, as well. Chapters of the National Court Reporting Association plan to observe the week through volunteer projects, such as the State of Georgia's Veterans History Project Day, in which the group seeks to transcribe veterans' oral history for submission to the Library of Congress.

Click here to find out how you can pursue a career in court reporting or captioning.

by Carlin Twedt



Sochi Roundup: Week One

Posted on: 2/12/2014 3:45:33 PM under News 


The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (captioned exclusively by VITAC) are well underway, and what a spectacle it's been! Here are some highlights and notable moments from the games so far:

-#Sochiproblems: Okay, so the hotels weren't quite ready and the tap water wasn't quite transparent. Nearly 100% of the bathroom doors were operational -- doesn't that count for something? Being an Olympian requires incredible strength, toughness, and focus, and there's no reason to make mountains out of molehills. But Bob Costas just can't catch a break, can he?

-Indian luger: Shiva Keshavan falls off his sled in prelims, but slides at the same speed and manages to roll back on it. Which begs the question, why use sleds at all?

-Opening ceremonies: Wow! What a spectacle.

-Shaun White: The snowboarding pioneer goes home emptyhanded, losing in the snowboard halfpipe to a guy named I-Pod with a trick called the "YOLO." And they say snowboarding is just for kids.

-Canadian mogul skier Alex Bilodeau wins gold for his brother with cerebral palsy. If that's not an Olympic moment, I don't know what is.

-The U.S. takes double gold in the new slopestyle event, as well as sweeping the men's podium. The U.S. is tied for first with Norway in the medal count as of 1pm EST.

-Women's hockey: Canada defeats USA 3-2 in a third-period rally. It is still possible that the two teams will meet again, possibly in the gold-medal round on February 20th. Can't wait!

-Men's hockey -- USA vs. Russia: This airs live tomorrow at 7:30am EST. Set your alarms! You'll never make it to the rebroadcast without hearing who won.

Make sure to check out all the forthcoming Olympic excitement, and remember that VITAC is captioning all content on this year, as well.



Offline Department Adds Standing Workstations

Posted on: 2/4/2014 10:51:21 AM under News 


Standing workstationAs part of VITAC's ongoing dedication to its employees health and wellbeing, VITAC has added two standing work stations to the "floor," the offline captioning area where employees transcribe, time, and place captions for prerecorded programming. The standing work stations allow volunteers to remain on their feet, rather than sitting, promoting better posture and circulation during the workday.

The experiment began just days before the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, for which VITAC is the exclusive caption provider. Like the Olympians' commitment to their sports, VITAC strives to promote active, healthy lives amongst its employees.



WPSD Grad to Sign National Anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII

Posted on: 1/31/2014 1:05:32 PM under News 


Before kickoff this Sunday, be sure to catch one of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf's graduates, Amber Zion, who will be signing the national anthem, as well as "America the Beautiful."

Signing at the Super Bowl would be a dream gig for anyone, but especially for someone like Amber who uses American Sign Language every day. The Penn Hills native has been deaf since before the age of 3 and relies on ASL to communicate on a daily basis -- but proficiency in ASL alone did not get earn her the coveted spot. Her acting background (she has appeared in a recent commercial, as well as in CSI:NY) has helped her, as well, as a video submission of herself signing led to her call to audition. "Just like there are different touches in singing the song, there are different ways to convey the words and concept of the song through ASL," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The official announcement that Zion had been selected was made just 10 days ago on January 21st.

The ASL interpretation of this year's national anthem bears special significance because one of the Seattle Seahawks' running backs, Derrick Coleman, is legally deaf. He is the first deaf offensive player in the NFL and has won hearts for his extraordinary work ethic as well as for the adversity he has overcome. The Super Bowl has a history of supporting deaf rights, and in 2008 aired a "silent" ad performed exclusively in ASL. 

Zion graduated from WPSD to go on to Rochester Institute of Technology, where she earned a degree in graphic design. She is "thrilled" to have achieved the honor, and though she has signed the anthem at other NFL games, the Super Bowl has a special significance to her: "There's nothing bigger than the Super Bowl," she said. In preparation, she consulted last year's signing talent (and viral superstar), John Maucere

In other Super Bowl news, VITAC is proud to be captioning the entire event, beginning with pregame coverage on Sunday morning.



VITAC and Fox Developing Live Audio Description Offering

Posted on: 1/10/2014 12:47:16 PM under Blog 


VITAC and FOX Developing Live Audio Description Offering

VITAC has always valued its position at the forefront of accessible media technology and recently successfully concluded its latest experiment in developing new services. In cooperation with Fox Broadcasting Company, VITAC conducted an off-air test of live audio description for the FOX broadcast of the American Country Awards.  Like its offline counterpart, real-time audio description involves a narrator describing significant events in a program for the benefit of blind and low-vision viewers.

The purpose of the test was to explore the best means of conducting live audio description. In a FOX audio booth, our live audio description team performed the trial, including SVP Market Development Deborah Schuster; Founder of Audio Eyes, LLC Rick Boggs; and description industry expert Teri Grossman, who has extensive experience describing live theater events as well as offline broadcast content. To prepare, the team watched the Awards rehearsal feed coming into FOX-LA from the venue in Las Vegas.  This gave the describer the opportunity to take notes which could then be used during the live broadcast for the description elements.  

During the actual broadcast's commercials, FOX staff and the VITAC/Audio Eyes participants discussed the progress of the test  and tweaked the audio levels for the description and the program as needed.  It was apparent that awards shows are a good fit for live audio description, as there is ample time between awards and presentations to describe the "pomp and circumstance" such as attendees' dress, elements of the stage settings, etc.

We look forward to bringing you more news about this exciting service offering in 2014!



Captioning for TV Ads

Posted on: 1/9/2014 5:25:30 PM under Blog 


Everyone knows that VITAC provides captioning for some of the most popular programs on broadcast TV. Did you also know that VITAC captions many of the commercials?

Like network shows, commercials require captions to meet federal accessibility mandates. Also like network shows, they are captioned by humans, not voice-recognition technology. Yet unlike most prerecorded shows, the ads VITAC prepares require a special system due to the extremely fast turnaround times for captioning these ads, called "spots." For each spot, which are usually 30 seconds long but could be several minutes, VITAC must produce a caption file according to strict client specifications in under 15 minutes apiece. That may not be hard for a single spot, but these advertisements often arrive in batches of 30 or more at once!

To meet these rush requirements, VITAC uses a proprietary system that bypasses some of the standard customer service protocols to get the spots more quickly to the captioners. using email alerts, a carefully chosen team of experienced captioners distributes the work between them to ensure that all the spots are covered.

Captioning a spot requires very specific knowledge, which is why this corps of Captioners receives special training for this task beforehand. Different rules apply for each client, and the Captioner must first reference the correct document specifying how that client would like the captions to look. For example, a client may specify that a speaker who appears on-screen must be identified by his name ("JOHN:") whereas a speaker who does not appear must be identified by name in italics ("JOHN:"). Rules also apply for identification of unnamed announcers and adherence to a script, if one is provided.

The most difficult part of captioning a spot is the placement of the captions. Since advertisers want to cram in as much dialogue as possible, it is sometimes tough to find a timeframe long enough to accommodate the text on-screen, as each caption, like a webpage, requires a very short load time. Also important is that no caption ever covers the product being advertised in any way. To avoid the product, a captioner must often use creative caption placement so that the product remains visible in its entirety.

With the Super Bowl coming up again, commercials are sure to be all the buzz in some small way. Lest we forget, many of those ads are captioned one at a time by a dedicated VITAC employee!



NPR Introduces Device for Captioning Emergency Alerts

Posted on: 1/6/2014 11:31:05 AM under News 


NPR Labs has been -- and is still -- developing a new emergency alert system designed to get critical messages to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals even in the event of a catastrophic power outage. Unlike a standard TV or internet emergency warning, the device is powered by individuals' tablets, allowing it to function during a loss of Wifi and municipal power. The device -- a rudimentary box that attaches to the iPad or other tablet -- captions emergency alerts broadcast over the public radio provider and its affiliates.

NPR is currently testing the program in the Gulf region, about which Mississippi Congressman Steven Palazzo said, "This valuable partnership with Mississippi's local public radio stations promises to expand the reach of our disaster alert systems, and I can think of no better place to conduct this trial than the Gulf Coast." Pending a successful test, the process will be rolled out nationally on stations serviced by the PRSS, or Public Radio Satellite System, which reaches 95% of the country.

The program is the result of a grant from the Deaprtment of Homeland Security and FEMA, and has been in development since early last year.

Photo courtesy of



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!



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