It started with YouTube videos.
Jessica Smith, Loyola University Maryland’s technology training center manager, noticed the automatic captions YouTube was adding to the University’s channel were inaccurate, even incomprehensible. She brought up the issue with Loyola’s accessibility team and hired students to caption the videos as a work-study position.
The process was tedious but necessary.
“It speaks to cura personalis. These messages have to go to everybody,” Smith, ’01, MBA ’07, said of the YouTube videos. “If you can’t hear it, you’re missing everything.”
Smith has advocated and worked for several years to make Loyola more accessible from a technology standpoint, and she knew captioning efforts needed to expand beyond YouTube.
The students excelled at captioning videos, so Smith gave them a more difficult and important challenge: captioning athletic events – live. Live captioning is a service for the fans, primarily parents or grandparents, who are deaf or developing hearing loss and cannot hear a game’s public address announcer. The service also helps fans who might miss an announcement for any reason.
Beginning in the spring 2015 semester, the work-study students will attend Loyola Greyhounds soccer and lacrosse games, and contests in additional sports, and transcribe PA announcements as they happen in real time. When action necessitates loudspeaker commentary, like during player introductions or after scoring plays, the transcribed audio appears in caption form on the scoreboard for fans to read.
The first trial run was in November, when a group of four students tested live captioning at the last home men’s soccer game of the 2014 season. Their system and software worked, but because of other technical difficulties the scoreboard did not display the captions. The issue has since been fixed, and the captions will be up and running in the spring.
Most colleges and universities hire outside vendors to handle live captioning, said Smith and Marcia Wiedefeld, Loyola’s director of disability support services. But Loyola recognized an opportunity to provide the same quality service at a reduced cost, and help students gain valuable skills and work experience at the same time.
Rachel Bressler, a first-year graduate student in the School Counseling program, helped Smith develop the training program for the work-study positions. Bressler researched online games that improve typing skills, as well as measure speed and accuracy, that could be used as an initial test for undergraduate students interested in captioning work-study.
After the first typing test to gauge their skill level, Smith and Bressler began the training. There were games where the students went head-to-head on who could type faster, creating friendly competition in the office. To help prep them for live captioning sporting events, Bressler had work-study students watch and caption soccer games from ESPN.
Like Smith, Bressler strongly believes in accessibility in the Loyola community and beyond. Because of her work with Smith, Bressler notices when captioning on television shows is not available or accurate.
“Equality for everyone is something that’s very important to me and is a big part of the work that I’ve done in the past and the career that I’m pursuing as a school counselor. Advocating for students is a critical to that role,” Bressler said. “So when I saw an opportunity to help develop a new program to help ensure equal access for everyone I was excited to be a part of it and a part of a university-wide effort toward accessibility. It’s exciting to be involved in something completely new to our school and innovative, as most universities hire professional transcriptionists rather than using students.”
Jenna Gasarowski, ’15, learned of the work-study position through her friends. The marketing major knew it would be far more interesting than a regular desk job and decided to try it out. She generally works 10.5 hours a week, adding an additional five hours if live captioning an event. Although she doesn’t plan to caption post-graduation, she said the typing practice and experience will help her land a job.
And Smith agrees. The work-study students are gaining essential job skills to take with them into the work force, as well as opening their eyes to how to make the world around them more accessible.
“Once you get involved, you see the need for accessibility everywhere,” Smith said.