Petition Asks Video Conferencing Services to Consider People with Hearing Loss

Shari Eberts

Hearing health advocate

06 May 2020

Video conferencing calls are a great way to stay connected with friends and family during this time of physical distancing, but for people with hearing loss, it is not as easy as it sounds. While video calls aid with lipreading, it is often still difficult to follow a conversation over video call due to poor audio quality and weak internet connections, especially if discussions involves more than one person. Captions could change all that, but for most popular video conferencing platforms, caption capabilities are hidden behind a paywall, making them difficult for most people with hearing loss to access.

Zoom

Free automatic speech recognition (ASR) captioning for people with hearing loss on video conference platforms like Zoom and Google could make all the difference.

In a recent blog post, I penned an open letter to video conferencing companies like Zoom, Google and others, asking them to provide free access to auto-captioning for people with hearing loss. The post states, “The gold standard of captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation or CART, where a live transcriber types what is spoken in real-time, but technology is rapidly catching up and now a handful of high-quality automatic speech recognition (ASR) options do exist. In these times of change, an ASR alternative can be acceptable for most communications.”

Petition Calls for Free Auto Captioning for the Hearing Loss Community

By popular demand, I started a petition on Change.org to record the overwhelming support for this idea within the hearing loss community. After only five days, 6,500 people had signed. As of this writing, 18,000 people have signed, and the number continues to grow. Signers are from all over the world and many share their reasons for signing. Reading these reasons inspires me to keep pushing forward with the petition. You can feel the importance this issue has for so many people. Here are some recent examples:

Because my deaf and hard of hearing loved ones should still be able to communicate with the rest of the world while isolated.

This is an important and essential service - a human right.

My Mum would like to access family calls

I’m signing because everyone has the right to have access to communication.

Hearing Loss Association of America Adds Its Voice

Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) recently added its voice to the conversation, issuing a policy statement “Free access to automatic captioning for people with hearing loss to support social engagement, during the COVID pandemic” which calls for “All online video call and conferencing platforms to offer free (no-cost) access to automatic captioning technology to people with hearing loss at the same level that platforms offer to their premium customers, during the COVID pandemic.”

The policy statement continues, “The need for social engagement — a basic human need — is paramount, especially during this period of global crisis. Accordingly, all free online video calling and conferencing platforms should be accessible to people with hearing loss for their personal use at no additional cost, during the COVID pandemic.”

Video Conferencing Companies Are Taking Note

The good news is that change is on the way! Last week Google announced they will be making their popular Google Meet video conferencing service free for everyone, including free access to real-time captions. Access will begin on a rolling basis in May but is likely to take several weeks. Sign up to be notified when it’s available. You can read Google’s full statement here.

Now Zoom, Microsoft and other video conferencing services must do the same. To help support this initiative, please Sign the Petition. I will continue to share the results with the companies and keep the signers updated on any progress.

Simply put, captions are our ramps. Please help support free access to ASR captions on video conferencing platforms. Together we can continue to make change.

Sign the petition