Captioning CART (live captioning) Speech to Text Captions


Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is live captioning, an accommodation for the deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) who have difficulty hearing speech clearly. A stenographer (like a court reporter) sits in the meeting, either in person or remotely, and types everything that is said in real-time to be displayed on various types of screens for people with hearing loss to read. The majority of people with hearing loss are not part of Deaf culture, and do not know sign language. CART allows the HoH community full and equal access to communication at live speaking events in the same way that ASL interpretation does for the Deaf community.

AI (artificial intelligence) captioning has many names—speech-to-text, ASR (automatic speech recognition), automatic transcription, computer or machine generated captioning—and has come a long way in recent years. The HoH community became especially aware of its benefit during the pandemic. Masks made us all (even hearing people) realize how much we rely on lipreading, and forced us to find alternative ways to communicate. The HoH began using speech-to-text apps to communicate in person and for online meetings. 

Both CART and AI have advantages. AI is getting better but it still has some limitations.

Chelle: Back in the late 90’s when I joined the SayWhatClub the first time, I remember people talking about CART. I lived in a small desert town two hours away from any major city, so CART didn’t seem like an option for most things. I tried asking for it when attending our local community college. They had no idea what it was and the most they could offer me was another student taking notes. By the time they found someone to take notes, it was too late as I had dropped the class and college all together. Afterthought: I may have gotten my college degree if I had the proper accommodation.

Julia and CART, my early days

When I moved to Salt Lake City 10 years later, I experienced CART for the first time at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapter meeting. I loved it! It was available for all HLAA chapter meetings and other events at the Deaf/HoH state center. Just like watching TV, I caught it all, live and in person! CART became my preferred accommodation.

YouTube introduced automatic AI captions 10 or so years ago. While it sounded like a great deal, the captions were unreliable. We began calling them craptions. For a taste of how bad that was, here’s two guys who had fun changing the script to fit the continually changing YouTube’s craptions.

The app AVA came out in 2015 as speech-to-text access specifically developed for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. AI started to look up from there, becoming better and more dependable. Now we can rely on speech to text using AVA, Otter and Live Transcribe. I didn’t use the apps much…until the pandemic. Masks unmasked hearing loss. Suddenly many of us were requesting CART and using AI for person-to-person encounters.  

CART was hard to schedule at the beginning of the pandemic so we had to depend on the apps listed above until the dust settled. Some people then thought we could use AI all the time. While AI is better, it still gets a lot wrong depending on acoustics, who’s speaking, and how well they articulate. Captions can be so far out I can’t help but laugh which had me called out during some work meetings.

This led to making guidelines for captions with meetings. If it was a short meeting, 30 minutes or less we could use AI as long as they knew I might laugh. If I laughed, I would share what captions said so they understood where I was coming from. If meetings were an hour or longer, CART was a must.

Julia: For those looking for a career path, CART is a great industry to go into, and the people who use CART are highly appreciative. Schools tell you that it’s a two-year program. It can be. But for me it was 5 years of school and speed building and another five years in the industry to become really good at what I do. Many times I wasn’t sure I would be able to support my family with CART, but I did. And you can too!

If you choose to go into CART, use everything you write to build your dictionary, even the slop (yes, someone is going to tell you I’m wrong, I’m woman enough to say they’re wrong). Work as hard to build your dictionary as you do your speed. Every class and event you do for the first ten years improves your dictionary, even if the assignment does not pay for editing, it will pay off with higher paying assignments. 

One of the best contracts I picked up was InnoCaption. Not only because it helps fill the gap when colleges seem slow, but because they really support their steno writers. InnoCaptions will promote your CART business. They work hard to help businesses understand what live CART is and why it is the gold standard. And they are the only cell phone caption app to offer real time steno writers and AI. 

ONE Interpreting is another great contract, though I work only occasionally for them. Mathew Call of ONE Interpreting has been my go-to person—when I have a tricky question—for 15 plus years.

I am a proponent of AI. Shhh. Nah, I don’t actually keep that a secret. We have needed a silver standard of providing captions for a really long time. But there is a difference, CART providers give you context.  

For example, a work meeting of twenty people:
CART (live captioning): Jim: Sorry we are running behind today. (whispering in back of room) Jim’s always running behind. 
AI: sorry we are running behind today Jim’s always running behind

AI may or may not pick up background talking at all, but if it does pick it up it will be part of the same person talking, with no punctuation and no context. As a live captioner, I am able to pick up, and put into parenthesis, background sounds to help clarify context for the CART consumer. AI is great but it’s not there yet.

Any employee and/or business needing better understanding or a demonstration of CART please reach out to us. And you can always find providers, schools, and other information at the National Court Reporters Association, and Global Alliance of Speech-to-text.

Michele: Like many people with hearing loss, I had no idea that CART/Live Captioning existed until I joined a peer support group. That was over 13 years ago and I’m still amazed at how many people have never heard of it.

My first experience with CART was in early 2010 at a cochlear implant informational presentation hosted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Seeing every spoken word typed out on a big screen filled in the gaps of lipreading. I even wrote about it in the SayWhatClub newsletter, Like a Virgin, CART for the Very First Time.

It took me a few years to request CART myself. One reason is that it takes time for your brain to develop the habit of considering something that’s not been an option before.

I’ve since requested CART for things like serving as a delegate for my political party, college lectures, a Diversity Insights breakfast, and other live events. 

However, organizers often lack knowledge about the effectiveness of various accommodations and have tried to push ASR (automatic speech recognition) apps in lieu of CART due to the cost. I’ve had to stand my ground and insist on CART when I know from experience that an ASR app will not work well. At times, getting what I need to participate is seamless, but often it takes extra time and effort to get what I need.

Unfortunately, automatic captions continue to earn the moniker of craptions and there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

With captioning and CART, quality matters! In some settings, only accurate, verbatim, high-quality captions allow for full and equal participation. If the accuracy of the captioning cannot be trusted, it is impossible to participate confidently. 

Those who routinely advocate for captioning tell the same story; they are frequently offered an ASL Interpreter even when they have specifically requested CART. That necessitates educating organizers about what CART is and/or dispelling the myths that exist about it.

The HoH community has to own their responsibility for CART not being as widely recognized for communication access as it should be. Their lack of awareness and reluctance to advocate for their needs add to the misconception that all people with hearing loss know and use sign language for communication access. In reality, of the 20% of Americans with disabling hearing loss, the vast majority (over 18% of Americans) need to see the text of speakers for communication access.

Something we wish the world understood: CART for the HoH is exactly the same as ASL Interpretation for the Deaf.

For CART to get the recognition it deserves, it’s going to take all of us requesting and using it for events where we know AI captioning will not work well.

Hearing Loss LIVE! can help you gain the confidence and know-how needed for requesting and obtaining what you need for live events. We want CART to become as recognizable as ASL Interpretation. And, we want HoH people to get accommodations that allow them full and equal access


Self Advocacy

Self advocacy is taking responsibility for your own communication needs as a person with hearing loss by…

  • becoming self-aware and knowledgeable about your hearing loss and needs.
  • familiarizing yourself with the tools, technology, and accommodations available to you.
  • developing an ability to describe your needs to others.
  • learning the how, who, and when to ask for assistance.

It is never too early or too late to become a good self advocate.

Michele: For some of us, it takes far too long for the attitude shift required to self-advocate.

For me it was an exercise in unlearning a not-so-healthy degree of consideration for others at my own expense. Considering others with more visible disabilities caused me to apply some of the same thinking to myself—Haben Girma, the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, talking about becoming a strong self advocate in this TED Talk is a great example. I certainly don’t consider Haben’s need to have access to her colleges’ cafeteria menu (minutes 3:36 – 12:36) too much to ask, so why should I view asking for what I need for access as bothersome?

Accommodation is not a favor, no exclusion is too trivial, and asking for what you need is not complaining.

As the world of self-advocacy opened up, I realized I had absolutely no clue about how to ask for what I needed. Having always loved science, it made sense to experiment. I started with the basic task of informing others that I had a hearing loss. I found labeling myself didn’t net the results I wanted or the clarity that others needed, so I gave up using labels and just said what was true: “I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak in order to hear you.”

I decided taking control in situations that made me uncomfortable was the best strategy. On days when I was feeling confident, I purposely set up challenging situations to work out better solutions/reactions. I later learned that what I was doing was called exposure therapy.

Once I joined an online peer support group and connected with advocates like Lauren Storck of CCAC Captioning and John Waldo of Wash-CAP, I realized I was part of a Hard of Hearing community that rarely asks for what they need. John Waldo shared that one of his biggest frustrations was working to get captioning devices in movie theaters and very few people using them. I owned my responsibility to be informed and to ask for accommodations that others worked hard to put in place. Not only for myself, but for all of the 466 million people in the world with disabling hearing loss.

Captioning is my language. Consumer captioning advocacy has been my focus for over a decade now. I ask for captioning whenever and wherever I’m excluded. I’m fluent in English, speak and write in English, but I can’t access spoken English without accommodation. Captioning allows me to be included.

Julia: Advocating for others is easy. But, not so easy when it comes to ourselves. I recently was asked why more folks don’t become CART providers. What I wanted to reply was that the Hard of Hearing don’t request it regularly. Instead I talked about supply and demand which becomes difficult in the CART world, no demand no pay. Many people don’t know what CART is, which is another big problem. 

Employers don’t often know about CART or what accommodations to offer when a hearing loss individual asks (I can help with that.) I hear the same about public venues. Oftentimes, they have accommodations but employees aren’t aware of, or trained for, them. Or, they may only know one form of accommodation, “Oh yes! We can get you an American Sign Language interpreter.” Give them credit for knowing about Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but don’t cave. Think of it as an opportunity to educate on HoH communication needs. 

Request what works best for you. Don’t let the business or venue tell you what will work best for them. When you settle for less, you may not be able to truly participate and enjoy the experience. They have to accommodate your hearing loss needs also, they just don’t know how yet. 

HoH are good at advocating for others. Parents are good at advocating for their HoH kiddos. When you start advocating for yourself, you can help make large scale changes. It may change the way business looks at hearing loss. Let me give you an example: I lose my hearing and I have young kids, I spend time advocating for my rights at work and my kids see this. They grow up and end up losing their hearing. They will self advocate because it is the example they saw. And now maybe when they say, “I need a caption phone to continue working,” the employer knows exactly what that is. Now, future generations will find it is easier to self advocate and HOH accommodations are a given.

Friends and family members, yes I am a broken record. First talk with your hearing loss family member. What do they want you to help them with when it comes to advocating for themself? Learning all the tools that can be used can help you work together.

SWC convention 2012, workshops

Chelle: My first official hearing loss convention was in 2012 held by the SayWhatClub, in Salt Lake City. John Waldo, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawyer, led a workshop for us. He talked about what he was working on and what was coming up. During the  question and answer session, I remember John saying the Hard of Hearing tended to be a “meek” group so it was hard for him to get things done.

The word “meek” hit me like a ton of bricks. I think I’m one of the meek ones because I didn’t want to burden others with my communication needs. Did I want to stay meek? Hell no! If someone was going to work on legislation on my behalf, then I needed to step up.

I started with baby steps. First, I started with my family telling them what I needed for better communication. When that worked, I began advocating for myself in public with grocery store clerks, experimenting with introducing myself and what I needed for communication. I ventured to restaurants by myself to practice with waitresses, they are paid to be nice, right? When a server took extra effort to work with me, I gave them a nice tip. When I returned they remembered me and worked with me. I also started to ask for assistive listening devices (ALDs) whenever I was in a public venue. I ran into issues now and then, hopefully they learned as much as I did. 

Then came my real challenge, asking for CART in a writers workshop, a place where I exhausted all other efforts. I could not participate fully due to bad acoustics and bleed-over noise from other rooms (the walls did not go all the way to the ceiling). There was some push and shove but in the end they had to comply. Julia wound up being the one to do the CART and for the first time, I could participate fully in the workshop answering questions, hearing the other students and even ‘hearing’ while the workshop leader who faced the white board often.

I took myself off the meek list.

This was not instant, it took a couple of years to build up. I borrowed courage from the hearing loss tribe and I’m not sure I could have done it without their help.

If you are having trouble figuring out how to begin with self advocacy, start with finding a peer-to-peer support group for people with hearing loss. Finding others who can share their successes and strategies is encouraging. Before long you’ll feel the boost in confidence needed take those first steps in asking for what you need. Start small and build from there, and remember…

  • unhealthy diffidence, timidity, and meekness can be unlearned.
  • experimentation and practice are invaluable.
  • taking control in situations you know are challenging is key.
  • the more HoH people use their voice to ask for, and educate others about, what they need to be included, the more the world will change.
Communication Practices

Hearing Loss: Family and Communication

Family and communication can be tough when you have a communication barrier. There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings around hearing loss and hearing devices. If we aren’t around others with hearing loss, we may not have all the information we need. That impacts our relationships. 

Hard of Hearing Defined

Defining the Hard of Hearing

Defining our needs as a community of Hard of Hearing (HoH) people who use spoken and written language to communicate is a challenge due to the diversity of hearing loss.

As an individual, defining your own specific needs, depending where you fall on the hearing loss spectrum, is one of the most important things you will do. The earlier it happens, the better. 

The Deaf Community is well-respected and admired for their accomplishments, and rightly so. They have fought long and hard for recognition of their language and culture. Deaf people influenced the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Their culture, community, and communication needs are visible and well-known. For that reason, anyone with hearing loss is commonly lumped together with the Deaf, labeled as hearing impaired or people with hearing loss (pwhl), and assumed to communicate fluently in sign language.


You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Ignorance is certainly not bliss where hearing loss is concerned. Once diagnosed, the Hard of Hearing are desperate for a map to help them navigate the pitfalls and gaps that lie between what they don’t know that they don’t know and information that allows them to function in life. As patients and family members, they look to those who they assume can guide them and fill in the gaps—hearing healthcare professionals.