Everything always seems to take longer than expected, and when my talk hit YouTube, I was out of town on vacation for a couple of weeks. I’m back now, and we can get caught up.
First of all, the talk is on the main TED website, but it’s a bit laborious to find. The primary search doesn’t turn it up (and the Gary Robson that appears isn’t me); you have to look in the TEDx section of the site. I’ll save you the trouble and provide a direct link: go here to watch my talk on TED.com.
I also have a direct link to the talk on YouTube, but I can make it even easier than that: here’s an embedded video with closed captions so you just have to click “play.” I am really excited that over 1,500 people have watched this on YouTube in less than a week!
A word about the captions on this video: The TEDxBozeman video crew hadn’t dealt with web captioning before, and when they sent me test files, I was having trouble getting them to play on my computer for some reason. We started with a clean transcript. My wife, Kathy, is a realtime captioner and she volunteered to create the file for me. I did a bit of editing (not much required; Kathy is a pro!) and then the video crew did the timing and placement. We still have a few glitches with line breaks and positioning, but I hope we can get those cleaned up soon.
My “behind the scenes” post talked about the actual experience of giving the talk, but I’d like to talk a bit now about the content. The message in this video is important to me for many reasons, and everyone who shares this video with their friends helps to spread that message. In a nutshell, the message is this: Captions are a nicety for those of us who can hear; they are a necessity for those who can’t. Certainly hearing people outnumber deaf and hard-of-hearing (HoH) people, but we can’t let the needs of the minority be drowned out by the convenience of the majority.
As I said in the talk, the World Health Organization says that 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. That’s 360 MILLION people! They need more than just an approximation of the dialog randomly tossed on a screen. Their captions are every bit as important as our audio, and those captions should be properly timed, properly placed, properly spelled, and comprehensive.
I am pleased by the action that the FCC has decided to take. They are moving the right direction, but it’s going to be a difficult move. How do you assign a numeric score to caption quality so that it can be legislated? What’s worse: a misspelled word or a caption covering someone’s face? How far behind can realtime captions be? I don’t envy them the work that’s going to go into legislating quality, but I’ll be happy to jump in and help if they ask. I’ve put a lot of time into questions like that throughout my career.
There’s one other thing I’d like to clarify: in no way should my talk be construed as a blanket condemnation of the people performing captioning today. Quite to the contrary, that business is filled with talented, caring people who work their tails off to produce a quality product. Unfortunately, a lot of station executives don’t give captioning the priority it deserves, and the job goes to the lowest bidder rather than the most qualified bidder. A broadcaster can meet the letter of the law today with a captioner who does no preparation, no research, and no post-broadcast QC analysis to improve the next broadcast. This is why realtime captioners earn less than half as much today as they did 20 years ago.
When we do something because we feel that it’s the right thing to do, we want to do it right; when we do something because we’re forced to do it, we’ll often do the least that we can get away with.
Legislation has unfortunately hurt us here, even as it’s helped in many other ways. By forcing everyone to caption, we have increased the quantity of captioning without providing incentive to increase (or even maintain) the quality. It’s good to see that changing.