It is our extreme pleasure to welcome Cristina Duarte, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs & In-House Counsel of InnoCaption, as our guest this week! Cristina has a pretty impressive title, but it doesn’t describe all that she does at InnoCaption. When speaking with Cristina, it is her passion and commitment to a company that holds a deep personal connection for her that comes through. She loves connecting with customers and helping the Hard of Hearing (HoH) and deaf improve their lives by broadening their ability to communicate.
CRISTINA: As soon as I could speak, I took charge of answering the phone in our house. I was so proud every time I would answer and say in my most adult voice “Duarte residence, Cristina speaking, how can I help you?” Both of my parents were born with profound hearing loss and the phone was always challenging for them. Fast forward about 12 years, I was the only kid in my high school with a two way pager – which was incredibly cool – because it was the only way I could get a hold of my parents and fully communicate with them when they were out of the house. My father, an audio visual engineer who specialized in accessible solutions, frequently traveled and called me to test out new technologies he encountered while on the road. It was a normal occurrence for me as a young adult to get a call from a random number and hear – “Hi Cristina, it’s Dad! Just trying out something new and want to see how it does.” Every single time there would be some part of the solution which fell short of expectations, whether it was the speed, accuracy, sound quality or compatibility. I remember the first time my father called me using the InnoCaption app – I can honestly say it was the first phone conversation I had EVER had with them that it was like I was talking to a hearing person. At the time, the technology was still pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – but we both knew it was going to be life changing.
Fast forward to today, I have had the opportunity to be a part of InnoCaption for seven years and am incredibly proud of how far we have come. We are still the only company to offer our users captioning provided by stenographers and have added the ability to use automatic speech recognition (ASR) as well. Instead of imposing our own views on which captioning technology best meets our users’ needs, we empower our users by giving them full control with the ability to switch between a stenographer or ASR captions at the press of a button, before or even during a call. We listen to the community and our users – which has resulted in some really awesome features. A few of my favorites, and how they came about, are:
Caller ID Selection: This feature allows our user to choose between whether outgoing calls from their InnoCaption show as their InnoCaption number; their regular cell phone number; or blocked. We implemented this feature after receiving requests from deaf and hard of hearing doctors who wanted to use their cellphones to call patients, but did not want to provide the patients with their personal numbers. They explained that their hearing peers were able to do this, and they wanted to be able to as well. Shortly thereafter we launched the Caller ID Selection solution!
DeskView: At the beginning of the pandemic so many were forced into remote work environments without accessibility. I remember hearing from users who explained that they did not need accommodations in person, but as soon as their work shifted to the phone or video conferences, they were really struggling. In the beginning, we had many users dialing in to video conferencing platforms from their mobile devices and relying on the captioning. The feedback from that time that I remember best, is someone describing the feeling of looking between their computer screen and mobile device trying to keep up as “whip-lash” inducing. To address this, our team rolled out Deskview, which is a browser based InnoCaption feature which allows users to either mirror the captions from their mobile device to their computer OR now users can call directly from the browser eliminating the need for the mobile device. This empowers the user to have control of the captions on the same screen as their video conferencing – our users were thrilled!
Dyslexic Font: At some point last year, I received a message from a long time InnoCaption user sharing that they were dyslexic and there were dyslexic friendly fonts which would enhance the ease of reading and comprehension for them. Our engineering team was able to implement a dyslectic font customization within the app – and now we are even more accessible.
I could share so many stories behind the features we have released and why – but that would take quite some time. Instead I share the ones above as examples of the changes that have been made as a direct result of feedback from community members. I love what we have been able to do together working alongside the community. Honestly, my favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to connect with users and hear their experiences. I am beyond proud of what has been accomplished to date and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.
CHELLE: The phone was such a big source of anxiety for me that in 2009 I quit using it. There’s no lipreading on phones, all I get is a voice which for me is missing many consonants in speech. Trying to piece together the missing sounds of speech without any visuals was pure hell. I lost a few friends who would not convert to text or email, that hurt.
Caption phones came along around 2012 and I had so much anxiety with phones it was a last resort for me. I’d walk by the phone for 2 or 3 hours before working up the courage to make the call. The captions helped and little by little I got over the fear.
InnoCaption was my first captioning smartphone app. I like that they use stenographers, I’m more confident than ever with phone calls. During the pandemic shutdown, I had to use my cell phone at home to make business calls. I found the captions to be more consistent and they came up faster too, so I transitioned to using only my smartphone with InnoCaption for phone calls.. No more anxiety.
JULIA: In 2017, HLAA National held their convention in Salt Lake City, where I first learned about InnoCaption and that they contracted steno writers. I thought to myself, sounds too good to be true (find out more in our podcast Monday).
I put off looking into it for a little minute, but eventually took their assessment test. It. Did. Not. Go. Well. Maybe down the road I will blog about my severe test anxiety. Just writing the word “test” has me in a sweat. Luckily they offered a second chance and I was ready. Sweat and all.
For the past four years InnoCaption has done just what they said they would do. Supply steady contracted work during times in the past I would have had none. I tell them every two weeks what I have available to work. Some months I have more, some I have less. I have as many hours as I want or need most weeks. A side bonus is InnoCaption pay is every two weeks without any problems.
CART providers, interpreters, Voice Relay Operators, Caption operators, operators in general, are all held to high confidentiality standards. We type/sign the spoken word and when done, we flush it. We are essential workers, and sometimes part of the first responder team. But we also allow someone with a hearing loss to share in the best parts of life with friends, family, and coworkers. At the end of the day, my job is about supporting someone who otherwise would be left out of whatever event they are facing, good or bad.
MICHELE: I have not had audio capability on my cell phone since 2012. When I moved to Germany, I had no use for audio (I don’t speak or read German) and so I dropped back to text and data only. After returning to the U.S., in mid-December of 2015, I kept putting off adding audio to my cell phone plan, as I had become accustomed to not having it. I kept telling myself I wanted to add it in order to try InnoCaption, and some of the other accessibility apps that caption cell phone calls, but I procrastinated.
The day before filming our podcast with Cristina, I stopped at my cell provider and changed my service to include audio capability. I was so excited to finally try InnoCaption and connect with people on mobile calls like a hearing person. I am blown away by how well it works and am kicking myself for not taking action sooner. Everyone I have used InnoCaption with so far says they love hearing my voice and chatting on the phone with me again.
I first learned about InnoCaption in 2017, while serving as a volunteer for the SayWhatClub Convention Steering Committee. InnoCaption has sponsored our convention for several years, and what is always evident is their caring, commitment, and willingness to listen to, and work with, their users.
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If you liked this post, try Listen Tech and Listen Everywhere who provides assistive listening to public venues. Also Global Alliance of Speech to Text Captioning who promotes speech to text services like CART.