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Call for Closed Captioning on the Web Heard by Google

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Monday, January 11, 2010   

PHOENIX - Most of the television shows broadcast over-the-air are now captioned, but groups advocating for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community say it's a whole different story on the Internet. Many sites that feature video entertainment don't offer captioning, but a bill in Congress would require them to do so.

HR 3101, the "21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009," has 25 cosponsors, including Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-7th).

Kerry Malak, communications director for the Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing says the lack of captioning capability has resulted in a caste system, of sorts, on the Web.

"It's really kind-of created this new divide between the hearing and severely hard-of-hearing deaf populations."

Malak says the recent announcement from Google that automatic caption capability is being added to videos on YouTube is a step in the right direction. According to Google, machine-generated captions will initially be available only in English and on videos from 13 YouTube partner channels, but it hopes to extend the feature eventually to all videos uploaded to the site.

As more people shift to the Internet to view their news and entertainment, Malak says the lack of captioning is becoming a huge problem.

"Most of the online TV content is not captioned at all yet either, which is a big problem, because you are used to seeing that on your TV."

Google audio engineers say background noise and strong accents pose a challenge to creating precise captions from the spoken word, but they are confident that voice recognition technology will continue to improve. Malak says that will be especially important as the deaf and hard-of-hearing population grows, with the baby boomer generation now adding substantially to those numbers.



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