Life has changed a bit, hasn’t it? We’re looking forward to our grocery store trips and daily walks around the neighborhood more than ever, just as a chance to get out of the house. Communication has changed too—everyone and their granddaughter is now using Zoom, Google, and other video chat services to talk to coworkers and loved ones, near and far.

With new technology comes new challenges. Most people have experienced “technical difficulties” while using a video call platform: Internet cuts out, the video freezes, or that one person in the group always forgets how to turn their microphone on. However, the transition to a video-call-lifestyle that a lot of us are now experiencing poses unique challenges for people with hearing loss.

“Say that again?”

Bad audio quality is a huge hurdle for people with hearing loss. Words get garbled a lot more often over video chat, and you might find yourself constantly ask people to repeat what they said. This is frustrating for both speaker and listener alike.

While video chats might help out people who can lipread, this could also be challenging if the video quality isn’t crystal clear—and most video chats aren’t. The picture gets fuzzy, delayed, or even freezes, which can make it impossible to follow a conversation if you’re trying to lipread.

Video chats also get increasingly more challenging as more people get added to the group. It can be extremely difficult to have a lively conversation with multiple people on one video chat, especially if people are talking over each other. That’s hard enough to follow in real life and it’s even more impractical over video chat.

Petition: Zoom, Google should consider people with hearing loss

What can be done about these challenges? The solution is simple: Captions. However, caption options for video chat services are often part of the “deluxe” packages, and you can’t access them through the free video chats that companies offer.

People with paid Zoom accounts can integrate Otter, a speech-to-text app that uses high quality automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology to provide realtime captions. However, this option is only for people with paid Zoom accounts and cannot be accessed through their free video chat.

Similarly, Google has its own speech-to-text app, Live Transcribe, but similarly hides this option unless the user is paying for their G-suite account.

Shari Eberts from Living with Hearing Loss is determined to make captions accessible to all, not just those who can afford it. In an open letter to Zoom, Google, and Microsoft, she requests:

“Please make free ASR captions available on your platforms for people with hearing loss immediately. In most cases, the technology exists and is integrated into your platform behind a paywall. Providing this service for free for people with hearing loss would not only improve the accessibility of your product, it is also the right thing to do.”

Eberts has also created a petition on Change.org, which you can sign here.

People with hearing loss are facing unique struggles during this pandemic, and providing access to video chat services with quality caption options can help people feel a little less isolated and a little more connected.

 

By: Elena McPhillips


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