COVID-19’s Impact on Captioning
COVID-19 upended life as we know it for most people, transforming how we work, learn, communicate, and gather. The rise in remote work, weekly coronavirus news conferences, and virtual public meetings also brought accessibility issues front and center, especially for hard-of-hearing people.
While some industries have struggled due to COVID-19, others experienced a boom in business. Caption Pros owner Jennifer Schuck reports an increased demand for captioning services. Anything that used to be in-person is now virtual, plus so much more.
“Consumers that read lips and did fairly well communicating in-person now struggle to be able to read lips online,” she said. “Not to mention, just the increase in accessibility online. More and more organizations are including captioning as a way to be more inclusive.”
COVID-19 increased the need for captions
The need for captioning has never been more vital for several reasons:
- More people working from home and taking online courses.
- Increased demand for web-based training and virtual conferences.
- Delivery of emergency information to those with hearing loss via news conferences and virtual formats.
- Increased awareness of ADA compliance and accessibility issues for workplaces, schools, and public entities.
- Access to timely and pertinent information is critical during a pandemic.
- Individuals with disabilities may have less access to the Internet, which means accessing information is difficult.
- Reading lips is impossible when people are wearing masks.
- Understanding people online is more difficult with poor audio connections and Internet latency, and overall poor connections.
- Captions can increase accessibility, engagement, and comprehension for all employees and ESL attendees.
Caption Pros offers variouscaptioning services, including live events, CART Captioning, instant transcription, news conferences, webcasting, and broadcast captioning. Post-production captioning is one area of business that has really taken off.
While it can be labor-intensive, post-production captioning involves adding captions to an audio file, video file, or a live event or conference – either before or after the event.
“In addition to having more requests for real-time events, adding captions to videos has also exploded,” Schuck said. “Many live events now have prerecorded components to them, and those need caption files made for them.”
Raising awareness of accessibility, ADA compliance issues
Students and workers with disabilities often improvise and adapt, finding their own ways to communicate with classmates and colleagues in person. But the pandemic has magnified the disparities and struggles of people with hearing loss and other disabilities.
There is a growing divide among students and workers who lack adequate Internet access, software programs or simply don’t know how to use technology. Students in districts with e-learning who were already struggling pre-pandemic are falling further behind. Some workers thrust into remote work were unprepared, either in internet service or computer skills, and have struggled to keep pace.
COVID-19’s forced closure of offices, public buildings, and schools has highlighted the importance of accessibility and equal opportunity for all population segments. It’s a good reminder of the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act and rules for employers, school districts, and government agencies.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains workplace requirements in this document: Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- ADA provides protections to people with disabilities, including hearing loss.
- Employers and public entities cannot discriminate and must provide certain accommodations under the law. So are public school districts.
- Under the law, an employer can ask you to provide reasonable documentation to establish that you have a hearing disability.
- An employee’s preferred accommodation should be given primary consideration, but an employer doesn’t have to grant it.
- Your employer has some discretion on what is a “reasonable accommodation” and may choose the cheapest option. One easier to implement or more suitable for business goals or multiple employees.
- Employers have to provide accommodations even if they have contracted with another company to put on an event, training, or conference.
CART captioning is included in the list of reasonable accommodations. If you’re struggling with how to talk to your boss about your need for captioning, this Caption Pros blog provides some good tips.
Workload during COVID-19
Although Schuck’s workload has increased significantly, and she’s been sleeping days and working nights, she is glad to be of service and in demand.
“By far the biggest pro is the ability to help people when the world is in crisis,” she said.
“The con is there is a much bigger need than I can fulfill. I provide the best services possible. That’s as much as I can do. Even if I were able to work 24/7, there would be unmet needs.”
As for how COVID-19 will impact the captioning industry going forward, Schuck said it had taken a global pandemic to highlight the need for accessibility online. And it’s not a need that is going away in today’s high-tech world.
“This has highlighted what captioning is and how it can be effective,” she said. “I think the demand will only increase going forward.”
Visit Caption Pros to learn more about our award-winning captioners and services. We can caption Zoom meetings and webinars, live events, and videos or customize our services to meet your organization’s needs.