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.
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.
Watch our companion video podcast.
If you liked this post, try Global Alliance of Speech to Text Captioning a captioning organization and CART Advocacy.