By Laurie Hanin, Executive Director
Laurie Hanin, Ph.D., CCC-A Executive Director
Since the pandemic began and daily communication shifted from in-person interactions to virtual gatherings, the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) has recognized the public’s urgent need for information on how to make these exchanges more accessible to people with hearing loss. Our weekly newsletter, Hear and Connect, has served as an information resource to help people with hearing loss connect through videoconferencing. The content we’ve developed includes Hearing-Friendly Video Conferences, a patient handout published by The Hearing Journal, as well as several blog posts listed at the end of this post.
Captioning is Essential for Access
As the stay-at-home order has remained in place longer than anyone anticipated, it has become clear that our clients and others with hearing loss who are dependent on videoconferencing to keep pace and stay connected, need these platforms to be accessible with captioning.
CART, the gold standard for providing high-quality real-time captioning with a skilled stenographer, may not be a suitable or affordable option given the sheer quantity of virtual interactions taking place every day. We are encouraged, however, to see that certain platforms are taking meaningful steps to increase access at no additional cost to the consumer.
Google Meet – One excellent example is Google which recently announced that its videoconferencing platform with automatic live captions, Google Meet, is now available for free (though certain restrictions apply). Learn more.
New Jersey’s RCC Service – New Jersey State, which for years has offered free access to CART for teleconference calls made by NJ residents with hearing loss (otherwise known as Relay Conference Captioning), will now provide CART for Zoom and other videoconferencing and webinar needs with extended hours. Again this is just for NJ residents; NYS, unfortunately, is not offering similar services. Learn more.
How You Can Get Involved
As the pandemic continues and the need for access grows, let’s recall the Americans with Disabilities Act and the principle at its core – the belief we share as a nation that people with disabilities, including those with hearing loss, are guaranteed the same opportunities as everyone else. CHC is proud to embrace the spirit of the ADA and with it the need for greater communication access through the availability of free captioning for all people with hearing loss connecting through videoconferencing.
You’re encouraged to reach out to the videoconferencing companies whose platforms you are using and educate them about your communication needs. Tell them which features are working well, which ones need improvement, and share any ideas you may have to better meet your needs. If their platform does not have an automated captioning feature – or only provides it for premium paying customers – urge them to remove that barrier to level the playing field for all members of our community at no cost. And, finally, share and advocate for these concerns with your local and state representatives.
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