From the desk of Teresa Goddard, M.S., Lead Consultant – Assistive Technology Services
Over the past year, JAN callers have expressed a great deal of interest in accommodations for virtual meetings. Last year, this led me to develop a resource on teleconferencing: Teleconference Accessibility and Hearing-Keeping Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees in the Loop. Since then, I have checked in with many employees who are deaf or hard of hearing and who now participate in most meetings remotely. Many people have remarked that non-verbal communication is more challenging in a video conferencing format. Others have mentioned that communicating on complex and technical topics is more challenging without access to interpreters and CART transcriptionists they had previously worked with in person. In contrast, I have also heard from employees who are hard of hearing and are thriving in a work-at-home setting without masks and where they can adjust their volume as needed.
Both employers and employees are also interested in automated captioning options but often have high expectations for the speed and accuracy when using this relatively new technology. Automated captioning technology has vastly improved in speed and accuracy over the past few years. I have seen them all work well, but they may not always be suitable for all teams. I would suggest testing a variety to see which might work for your team. If you are interested in automated captioning for virtual meetings, here are three that I have seen in action: AVA, Otter Live Notes, and Streamer. In addition , AVA offers an option called AVA Scribe, which combines elements of both human & artificial intelligence-based captioning.
While automated captioning is convenient and affordable, remote CART may be a better option if your meetings include persons with strong accents or dialects, or if technical jargon is used. A trained captioner who is familiar with your team and can be briefed in advance can help not only with the flow of a virtual meeting but can also stop to seek clarification or make corrections in a way that is well beyond the capability of currently available virtual options.
Likewise, video remote interpreting (VRI) continues to be an essential form of communication support for many American Sign Language (ASL) users. Companies such as Gridcheck specialize in scheduling onsite and video remote interpreting (VRI) interpreters.
One innovative use of automated captioning involves providing both an ASL interpreter and automated captioning to limit the impact of technical glitches such as frozen video feeds and audio disruptions during virtual meetings.
It can help to choose a platform that allows the option of calling in by phone. This approach supports employees who can connect hearing aids or a cochlear implant to their phone more easily than their computer, or who are most comfortable using specialized types of telephones.
Whatever option you choose, be sure to check in with your employees to make sure that the accommodation is effective. For more accommodation ideas see Accommodation and Compliance: Hearing Impairment.