Perhaps you have heard of real-time captioning, or CART (Communication Access Realtime Transcription), as it is often called. This is the provision of captions to accompany a presentation or performance in real time. The captions are generally projected onto a screen, where some or all of the audience can read them. CART can potentially enhance experience for several groups of people:
- those who became deaf after becoming proficient in English (or another language), i.e., the post-lingually deaf;
- those with mild to moderate hearing loss, who want to follow along with what they can hear, using the captions to fill in anything they might miss;
- those for whom English is not a native language;
- those who comprehend better via the written word
- the culturally Deaf who also know written English (in the absence of A.S.L. interpretation).
I had never heard of CART captioning until early 2010 when I got to know an NYPL colleague who is also a board member of the local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. She told me that the chapter holds its monthly meetings at Muhlenberg Library and provides several methods of accommodation for attendees, almost all of whom have hearing loss, ranging from mild to severe. The room where they meet has an induction loop that the chapter itself had installed for NYPL — and assistive headphones that work with the loop for those without a t-coil. In addition, they hire a real-time captioner for each meeting.
I attended the next group meeting and was fascinated by what I observed: the focus on doing whatever was necessary to enable each person to participate; the rapt attention paid by every audience member to either the speaker at the microphone or their words as projected on the screen; and the high level of technical expertise and lightning speed at which the captionist was recording the words. I became a believer in the value of CART that night.
Shortly afterward, in April 2010, LIVE from the NYPL presented a program on Tactile Sound & the Pursuit of Silence in a Noisy World. Some of the evening’s panelists and expected audience members were Deaf, and the production staff was eager for the event to be as accessible as possible. A CART provider was hired, and the captions were pleasingly visible on giant screens, side-by-side with projections of the ASL interpreters.
Tactile Sound & the Pursuit of Silence in a Noisy World, April 9, 2010, Live from the NYPL. Photo: Brigid Cahalan In July 2010, NYPL hosted several events to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and CART captioning was provided for all of them. Other events have had CART-captioning, either upon request or due to the nature of the topic.
ADA anniversary program at Mid-Manhattan Library, July 2010, with CART captioning and ASL interpretation. Photo: Brigid Cahalan
So, who are these amazing CART captionists? They are people who have trained as court reporters, and who — using court reporting equipment — type upwards of 225 words per minute with an average accuracy of 98 percent or higher. As they type, the lines roll up so there are always a few lines to read present on the screen. They may be certified through the state board that oversees court reporters, and/or through the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). An extensive list of CART providers by state is on the NCRA website. Some captionists in other countries and remote CART providers are included as well.
How does a library or organization pay for CART captioning? In NYPL’s case, it has used government funding provided for outreach services. However this service is funded, it is incumbent on public libraries to provide access whenever possible. The ADA requires it and the moral imperative compels it. If real-time captioning can be offered for every program and class, that is top-notch service. If not, offering it upon request is a welcoming gesture sure to be appreciated. Here is the open-captioning symbol that can be used to indicate that captioning will be present at an event — though this symbol could also indicate that captions prepared in advance will be used.
Jim Weisman of the United Spinal Association speaking on Disability History in NYC at Muhlenberg Library, October 2011. Photo: Ahvi Spindell
In October 2010, NYPL’s Library for the Performing Arts hosted a concert by the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL) organization. I found it unique and unforgettable, and a New York magazine reviewer shared a similar response. One of the performers that day, composer and AAMHL member Jay Alan Zimmerman, approached me shortly afterwards. He had been a regular participant in the Annual Holiday Songbook, a hugely popular two-day event held at the Library for the Performing Arts each December. Due to a progressive hearing loss, and relying mostly on written communication and the American Sign Language he learned as an adult, Zimmerman missed out on most of the lyrics, dialogue, and banter of the other participants. He broached the subject of our offering CART captioning for the upcoming program; but as the Songbook is an event with a LOT going on on the stage it seemed that the projected captions would be too intrusive. Zimmerman persisted: "How about wireless captions?" Another new concept for me. I approached one of our regular CART providers with this possibility and she jumped at the chance — no problem! And so it went: the captionist sat in the control room, with headphones so she could hear everything through the sound system — and transmitted the captions to those with tablets or smartphones in the audience who wanted to read them. An insert in the program alerted them to this option, along with the website to view them.
That was an experiment, and it worked! Zimmerman expressed that it was the first time he caught all the words at one of these events. As he is again performing in the Holiday Songbook this year, he asked for wireless captions again and it will happen. NYPL offers the Annual Holiday Songbook on Sunday, December 11 and Monday, December 12, both performances with captions, presented in real-time!