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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Captioned Webinars

Last Wednesday, I viewed a captioned webinar sponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Presented by Julie Olson, the webinar's topic was HLAA's history and beliefs. I have recently re-joined the organization and found the material covered fascinating. Unfortunately, the audio was unclear due to technical problems. Fortunately, there were captions that let me read everything the speaker was saying. You can learn more about HLAA webinars at this link.

While on the topic of captioned webinars, I wanted to share with you that Bill Graham, a personal friend of mine, has a business that offers captioning for webinars and other meetings called CaptionAccess. I asked him to tell me how he got interested in starting this business. Here was Bill's response:

I've been involved with captioning from the birth of CART. I co-founded the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) in 1988 and we were the very first organization in the United States to have all sessions of their annual convention captioned (and signed as well...). Court reporters were just coming out of the courtroom to try their hand at real-time captioning in public. They found ALDA the perfect test tube since as people who became deaf as adults our members largely didn't sign, lipread very well, or hear....the only common denominator was we could all read the King's English--captioning was our communication salvation. In my work life in the publishing industry, captioning was never a stranger--I drove a project at Microsoft to closed caption their multimedia encyclopedia and I was the first person there to use remote captioning. Then I got laid off (twice!) and decided to start a new career. Captioning and interacting with deaf and hard-of-hearing people came naturally. I never particularly wanted to be an entrepreneur, but in this case the shoe fit too well to pass up the opportunity!
For my job I often have to watch webinars to learn the latest in librarianship. The advantage of webinars are that they save employees from having to travel. I have never requested an accommodation for them so I asked Bill, "How can a hard of hearing\deaf employee request captioning from their employer? This is an important question for me because I hate to be a bother and am really uncomfortable asking for accommodations. I would imagine overcoming this hesitation from clients is a key to your business model." Bill replied:

It's always hard to ask for something that makes you stand out as different. Particularly when, more than anything, as a deaf/hoh person you want to show that you can do anything as good as your colleagues. It took me many years before I asked for accommodations in the workplace. I just wasn't understanding what was being said at meetings--simple as that. How could I perform my job as well as I knew I could without some form of accommodation for the fact that I couldn't hear what others were saying? I eventually asked for some help and wow, what a difference that help made in my career. A not uncommon reaction from bosses and employers is "Why did it take you so long to ask?" Most employers want their workers to do their best. It's in everyone's best interests.
So the first hurdle is to simply ask. Most companies are required to be accessible. So know what kind of accommodation you want, let's say captioning, and go to your boss and ask for captioning for a particular meeting. You can say: "I really want to take full advantage and participate in the upcoming meeting and I can best do that with captioning."  If your boss asks what is that?  You can ask them to contact a particular company, say CaptionAccess, and we will be happy to explain captioning--how it works, what equipment is needed, the benefits for the whole work team (such as the transcript provided afterwards)--all of the details. Ask them to contact us. Also if your boss is unfamiliar with accommodations, then you can ask them to talk with your Human Resources department. HR departments are typically familiar with disability accommodations and can be a helpful advocate. But a company is typically not required to do anything unless you put in a request. At that point we will work with your company to provide appropriate services in the most cost-effective manner.
But again, what it all boils down to is...ask. Just ask. It's a win-win waiting to happen.
Thanks, Bill for answering my questions. To learn more about Caption Access visit their website at

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