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Technology is continually changing the world in every way imaginable, and improving accessibility is arguably one of the best ways technology can innovate a better future. One widespread use case involves helping people who are deaf or hard of hearing to consume audio and video content.

Approximately 15% of American adults have some degree of hearing loss. That is a huge portion of the population that is often excluded from obtaining information and resources that involve needing to hear—at live events, for example.

Thankfully, technology has made it possible to make live events more accessible to more people through live professional captions and live auto captions. All businesses with live events should use one of these strategies to make their events accessible to more people.

Auto vs. Professional: Defining the Difference

So, which caption option is the best approach for making your organization's live events more accessible?

Let's start by defining the difference:

  • Live auto captions are generated by automatic speech recognition technology, and they can sometimes be enhanced through machine-learning algorithms. Auto captions are sometimes referred to as machine captions.
  • Live professional captions are created in various ways, but they always involve a human captioner. Standard methods include stenography and voice writing.

Live Auto Captions Pros and Cons

The biggest upsides to choosing live auto captions for your event are cost, scale, and ease of scheduling.

Live auto captions are the more affordable strategy for caption accessibility because the approach doesn't involve hiring a professional; rather, it's an exercise in efficiently provisioning machines, which tends to be easier than provisioning skilled labor.

For that same reason, scheduling is also easier. You don't need to figure out planning and scheduling your business's event around when someone is available to do the captioning.

Moreover, live auto captions are great at minimizing deletion errors, such as missing words, compared with live professional captioning. The technology does not fall far behind, resulting in all words being captured, whereas a human captioner may need to drop some words to keep up with the content.

There are a few drawbacks to live auto captions. They include substitution errors, because machines tend to be less accurate even if they capture all words vs. missing some, and reliance on proprietary technology, as auto solutions haven't been tested much externally. Their accuracy can be low, and accuracy level can vary depending on the content type.

It's important to evaluate your options for live auto captions before making your pick to ensure your solution is reliable.

Live Professional Captions Pros and Cons

Going with live professional captions ensures highly accurate, real-time captioning. The biggest upside over auto captioning is consistent accuracy and high quality, regardless of audio or content characteristics.

When you go with a professional human captioner, the speaker's intent is also taken into account, further enhancing accuracy. A human can also decipher complex or unique terms, accents, and multiple speakers better than a machine can.

The downside of live professional captions is that it's the more expensive option. Using a professional means paying for human time and effort. That can be as much as 10X more expensive compared with a live auto caption technology option.

Another hurdle is the process of handling the logistics for a captioner. You need to schedule ahead of time for the event, and ensure proper planning, communicating, and testing connections for the captioner—all time-consuming tasks that you don't need to think about when using live auto captions. But putting in more effort, thought, and cost makes professional captions generally more accurate, and it gives more reliable results for your attendees.

Making Your Pick

You've heard the pros and cons for each captioning strategy. Now you must decide which is best for your organization's events.

If you know your audience will include people who are deaf or who have trouble hearing, accuracy is more critical. That's especially true if that audience includes employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, including auxiliary aids and services. That includes computer-aided transcription services and open and closed captioning.

Other considerations:

  • Online accessibility. If a recording of your event is being shared virtually, you'll need fully compliant captions to ensure accessibility for all watching and listening online.
  • The size of the event. For large events with many attendees, accuracy is more critical for captions. For smaller events such as internal team meetings without specific accommodation needs, live auto captions may do the trick.
  • Branding. If the event is high-profile or it's viewed by many people, captioning accuracy (or lack thereof) can have a real impact on your brand. For example, it's not worth the risk of getting a company or product name wrong during a big launch event.

Planning Ahead

If you do end up going with the cost-effective and simple approach of live auto captions, you should ensure the following to get the most out of them:

  • Audio equipment is high-quality
  • A list of technical terms, phrases, and acronyms that will be used for the event are considered by the solution you pick
  • You upgrade to a fully cleaned up transcription or caption file to ensure legal compliance and 99%+ accuracy for the recording of the event

* * *

Whether you go with live auto captions or live professional captions for your business's next event, you'll be taking accessibility into account and improving the experience for a large portion of your audience. And that's always a step in the right direction.

More Resources on Accessible Videos

Why You Need to Create Accessible Videos

Five Quick Video SEO Tips to Help More People Find Your Content

How to Create a Corporate Video Brief: Use This Easy Template

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Josh Miller

Josh Miller is co-founder and co-CEO of 3Play Media, the leading video accessibility provider.

LinkedIn: Josh Miller