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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!




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


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