[Athen] Caption Mic

Mirabai Knight askeladden at gmail.com
Thu Feb 19 12:11:58 PST 2009

Full disclosure: I'm a stenographic CART provider, so I'm in direct
competition with this sort of service.

That said, I really recommend you get a live demonstration of this
technology before you buy it. I work for a university whose disability
accommodations department bought a system very like this one; I don't
know whether or not it was exactly the same. I do know that it was a
voice captioning system, that the disabilities coordinator hired ASL
interpreters to train with it and use it (the student used hearing
aids and her first language was English, but she understood ASL, and
the school had been offering her interpreters because they had been
unable to find a CART provider. She had gone through undergraduate
school using remote stenographic CART, but told me that she preferred
onsite CART to both remote CART and onsite ASL interpretation). It was
a disaster for the student. The transcripts were apparently
unreadable, and the captioning system (which, I got the impression,
nearly broke the disability accommodations department's budget for the
semester) is currently moldering in a cupboard. I started providing
CART there immediately afterwards; this is my fourth semester with

Now, speech recognition is a great technology, and it's particularly
useful for those who can speak easily but find typing difficult; when
someone is composing off the top of their head, they generally tend to
speak at a slower rate than their ordinary conversational speed, and
if they see that the program has made a mistake, they can easily stop
and correct it. It's a very different situation when it comes to
realtime transcription of someone else's speech, particularly in a
university environment. There are several excellent voicewriters
working today who are able to provide verbatim transcription, but
they've put in thousands of hours training their voice, their
software, and their transcription theory (coming up with consistently
different ways to pronounce homophones, for instance; artificial
technology is a long way from solving the "their/they're/there"
problem, whatever they might claim). It's probably more difficult to
find a truly verbatim voicewriter than it is to find a truly verbatim
stenographic CART provider. They're quite rare, and they charge
equivalent prices to stenographic CART. I like to say that
voicewriters are to stenotypists as beatboxers are to drummers.
They're both hard to do well, but with drums, after a few years of
good solid practice, you'll be able to keep a beat to most songs you
come across. To be a good beatboxer, you have to be fiendishly
talented and practice fiendishly hard. Neither one is in danger of
seriously superseding the other, but if I had to lay money on one in a
John Henry-style battle, I'd put it on the drummer. The human hand is
generally a more accurate instrument than the human voice for swift,
accurate, repetitive motions. The one disadvantage of a voicewriter
over a CART provider is that sound bleeds through their mask. As
Caption Mic noted, that can be very distracting in an academic
environment, and the solution they propose is to use remote

Remote captioning, whether using stenographers or voicewriters, is a
good solution when no one can be found to provide onsite services, but
it has several drawbacks. Remote captioners can't read terminology
written on Powerpoint slides or clarify unclear phrases at the
student's request. I'm currently doing work for another university
that hired a remote stenographic CART provider to caption some very
technical classes for a Pharmacy student. One of the professors had a
thick accent, spoke very quietly, used complex biochemical
terminology, and taught in a classroom with thick concrete walls. I
read some of the remote captioner's transcripts, and the captioner was
clearly very skilled, but every third word was (inaudible); the Skype
reception kept cutting out, the accent was indecipherable without
being able to watch the professor's mouth and gestures, and none of
the extensive information displayed on the screen was available for
the remote captioner to make use of. Three weeks into the semester, I
was called in to provide CART onsite, and the following semester the
student requested me for all of his lecture classes.

I'm honestly not just trying to blow my own horn here. I know CART
providers are hard to find and sometimes can seem prohibitively
expensive. But very often speech-to-text companies claim a lot more
than they're able to deliver, and it's usually to the student's
detriment. It's worth being a little cautious before laying out a lot
of cash on something that might not be as good as it sounds. Good luck
with whatever you wind up doing! I hope it's okay that I spoke up; I
know I'm usually a lurker on this list, but I read the digests
faithfully, and I'm very glad to be among you all.

Mirabai Knight
StenoKnight CART Services

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