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Complaints about captioning, take 1

As I think I’ve noted in an earlier essay or two [1], the College has both a moral and a legal responsibility to ensure that the materials we produce are accessible [2]. One of the easier ways to ensure accessibility is to caption videos. Good captioning is helpful, and even provides a form of universal design in that it can help people who may have trouble with accents, or want to search or whatever. I care about captioning, in part, because I am gradually losing hearing. I can still hear, but I clearly can’t hear as much or as well as I used to [3]. I also care about captioning because I think it makes videos more usable; some of my early attempts to do work in multimedia was thinking about how such captioning would help students search video lectures [4].

I also know that the Justice Department has been starting to target colleges and universities who are not careful in their captioning. Harvard, for example, got in trouble because one of their EdX MOOCs was not correctly captioned. That’s not to say that it wasn’t caption. Rather, they’d relied on software (or perhaps unsupervised Amazon Turks), so the written words were not always appropriate approximations of the spoken text.

Captioning also strikes me as a comparatively easy and straightforward first step in working toward accessibility. It’s certainly easier than, say, thinking about how you are going to make an interactive data graphic accessible.

For all of these reasons, I tend to get frustrated when I see the College fail to caption videos appropriately. Let’s consider an example. Ana Karin Kozjek ’17 [5] was just designated Midwest Conference Women’s Swimmer of the Week [6], and we’ve released an interview video. Let’s compare what Ana and her interviewer, Ted Schultz, actually said to what appears when you view captions in the video.

Here’s my attempt to transcribe the four-minute video.

TS: Hi there I’m there with Ana Karin Kozjek. She is a Grinnell College Women’s Swimming Swimmer, and this week was named Midwest Conference Swimming and Diving Performer of the Week. Congratulations.

AKK: Thank you.

TS: Well tell me a little about your week. We were at the Grinnell Mini-Invitational and you won four events. A very busy day for you: Three individuals and a relay. Talk about your performance.

AKK: Yeah, it was a very challenging week overall because I decided to swim some of the most challenging performances from the races that I swim often and that are like very high pressure for me. And one after another was challenging. But [indecipherable] and it was a great practice.

TS: Well, you had a great career here. Talk about some of the highlights for your during your career here.

AKK: Highlights. Every conference, every single year. It’s not just swimming. It’s so much more. The emotions, the team. They are like the highlights.

TS: This season’s been wonderful. Talk about how the season so far, how it’s has gone.

AKK: The season; it’s been great. Yeah, I’m very happy about how it went. I worked harder then last season because I was here all season. Last year, I was studying abroad as well, so that made a big difference. So, yeah. I feel pretty prepared. I feel that the team is getting healthy.

TS: [Laughs.]

AKK: We had a bit of a mysterious disease episode, but now we’re getting back into the groove. So, yeah, I think we’re going to finish strong?

TS: Were you one of the ones affected by that disease?

AKK: Slightly.

TS: Slightly.

AKK: Um, Yeah.

TS: Now, you had the opportunity to go to the Olympic games this year. Talk about that and how/why you were down there and what not.

AKK: So, my mom is the team doctor for my national team, the Slovenian team. And we went there; I went there because of her mostly. It’s not very often that I get to see her. So that was beautiful. I was also spending my whole summer in South America. So that was just one of the stops. And it was just a amazing, amazing thing to see. To see the whole background that’s going on besides the Olympic show.

TS: Uh huh.

AKK: I saw the life of people, like in favelas and everything. It’s a great opportunity to see, like everything beside the show.

TS: You also had a teammate swimming there.

AKK: Yes. Yeah. Josh. Of course.

TS: Yeah, yeah.

AKK: He gets so annoyed. He’s going to get so annoyed by mentioning him.

TS: [Laughs]

AKK: But, yeah, it was great to see him. It was great to see Tim [Hammond], the coach. And we went together to see the Christ the Redeemer. It was just such an adventure. And seeing everyone coming together: My my mom and coach and teammate. It was just magical.

TS: A great chance to do a lot of great things.

AKK: Yeah.

TS: So you have the conference meet coming up in a little over a week. Talk about your expectations there.

AKK: Well, I want to have no regrets. It’s my last meet, probably. I’m going to finish my career after that. So I want just want to go in, swim the best I can, have fun, have a lot of fun, make memories, support the whole team. We’re going for the win again. I think we can do it, honestly. I hope all the best.

TS: Oh absolutely. What’s your major, and what do you plan to do with it?

AKK: I’m a Biological Chemistry major with a Neuroscience concentration. And this week, I have just submitted my application for studying medicine back home in Slovenia. So that’s pretty much determined. I’m going to go back. And, yeah, I’m excited for everything. I had an amazing four years here, but I’m ready for a new adventure.

TS: Absolutely. Well again, Anna, thank you so very much. It’s been fun watching you over these years, and looking forward to a big conference meet.

AKK: Thank you.

TS: Thank you.

That took me thirty minutes, but I don’t have the normal accessories for pausing and rewinding, so I was just bouncing between windows on my Mac. I should also add time codes, but this is just intended as an example.

Now, let’s see what you get when you choose closed captioning on the video.

hi there i’m hearing Dominic Greene
project she is a Grinnell College
women’s swimming swimmer and this week
would mean the Midwest Conference
swimming and diving performer of the
week congratulations
well tell me a little bit about your
week we’re at the Grinnell indicate many
invitational and you want for advanced
very busy day for you three individuals
and really talk about your performance
yeah it was about challenging overall
because I decided to send some emotional
performances that I come to you today
some often and I create high pressure
for me and being sworn at writer was
challenging but we have much planned
with a great suspected you had a great
career talk about some of the highlights
for you during your career highlights
every continent anything little here
just like it’s not just swimming so much
more the emotion the team like the head
are this season’s been wonderful talk
about the season so far how it’s gone
even speeding been great
yeah i’m very happy about her client i
work hard lesson because I will help
people maybe last year was studying
abroad as well will limit the difference
yeah i feel asleep back i feel that team
is getting healthy we had a bit of a
mystery is anything but now we’re
getting that you should do groups oh
yeah okay with a very strong we want the
ones affected by that disease slightly
slightly now you have the opportunity to
go to the olympic games this year talk
about that man how you why you were down
there and whatnot so my mom’s opinion
doctor for national teams DNT and we
learned their I window because the
and I’m tired because it’s not very
often that against her
so that was beautiful eligible
suspending my house on Sunday Micah but
i’ll just one of the stuff and we’re
just amazing amazing thing to see the
whole playground it’s going on besides
biggest the Olympic show you like the
life of people like in formulas and
everything it’s a great opportunity like
everything like that show you also the
teammate swimming there
yes yeah Joshua voice yeah yeah he gets
so I know he’s going to be annoyed by
mentioning here but what do I was going
to see have to pretend to coach
yes and we went together to see the
christ the redeemer was just such an
adventure of seeing everybody coming
together and my mom and college
teammates it is just magical a great
chance to do a lot of great things and
not that’s so you have the conference
meet coming little over week talk
about your expectations there
well I want to have my breasts
it’s my less we probably i’m going to be
significantly after da so just want to
go in the Mexican have fun have a lot of
fun my family support to help you
yeah we’re going for the win again and I
think we can do it honestly I hope all
of us
oh absolutely with your major what
you plan to do with it
I’m special country major in your
science communication and this week I
had to submitted my application for
studying medicine that comment yes
so that’s pretty much determined so i’m
going to go back and yeah I’m excited
but everything i had amazing four years
here they’re ready for new adventures
absolutely well again Donna thank you so
very much it’s been a fun watching you
over these years and looking forward to
a big conference meet thank you thank

Yeah, no, as my students say. I don’t think anyone who relied only on the transcription would have any idea what was being discussed. I’m also pretty sure that no one even looked at the captions, or they wouldn’t have allowed the transcription to include a reference to body parts (a bit before the strange reference to Mexican). That strikes me as failing in our responsibilities, not only to those who might want to watch/read the video, but also to Ana.

I’ve done my best to do my part. I complained when they posted it on Twitter. I sent email to the AD, the College Webmaster, the College Associate Dean for Disability Services, and our Social Media Specialist [7]. I’ve posted this essay. And I transcribed the video and added it to the Facebook page. I hope that incentivizes whoever does the video postings for athletics to do the same.

One of my readers asked if I chose Ana for this essay because she is an international student. I did not. It’s just that I got the video on my Twitter feed, and since she’s a friend and teammate of my kids, I thought I’d watch it. I put captions on because I like to watch videos with captions.

Does Ana’s accent make it harder for the captioning software? Possibly. Does that matter? No. We shouldn’t be relying on software.
Note that the captioning software has trouble with people who speak as clearly as Ted Schultz, too. Check out the introduction to the interview with a male swimmer.

hi there i’m here with [STUDENT NAME] he is a criminal [8]

We should be taking the time to do the captioning ourselves.

[1] Or three or more.

[2] I think there are cases in which the burden of accessibility is so high that it’s reasonable to provide alternatives.

[3] I tend to blame it on the Go-Go’s concert I saw in Grant Park when I was about nineteen, and I stood next to the tall towers of speakers right next to the stage.

[4] I think that ended up as a discarded work in progress.

[5] Ana continues our series of awesomely talented students from Slovenia. Given our track record, we should find ways to attract more Slovenians.

[6] She’s received this honor in the past, too.

[7] Only our Social Media Specialist replied quickly, and she noted that she was not charged with anything having to do with those videos.

[8] I’ve elided the student name so that a Web search doesn’t bring up that phrase.

Version 1.1.1 of 2017-02-10.