G3ict is the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs

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Amit Shai

Education Blog

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Voice Recognition, Captions, and Beyond

If you have recently visited the Alliance for Distance Education in California (ADEC) Web site (http://www.adec-cal.org) you probably noticed a link to a recent webcast about technology-mediated gaming, social networking and education. Linking to it would give you an opportunity to enjoy the lively and interesting discussion ... as long as you are not trying to listen to it in a loud crowded place where you could not hear the conversation; as long as the sound setting on your computer is indeed set appropriately (and if not, as long as you are tech savvy enough to change the sound setting on your own computer); as long as you are ageing gracefully and your hearing is still the way it used to be; or as long as you are not hearing impaired.Synchronized captions would have allowed you to watch and enjoy the webcast even without the sound. Captions are neither new high tech, nor do they require some technological magic. We have all seen captions before on our television sets and in the movie theatres. Yet, ADEC's webcast and many other Web movies used in e-courses all over the country are not captioned and pose significant barrier to students with disabilities. Then why is that? Two possible short answers:1. Awareness - Simply put, people just don't think about it. Most of us, movie-watchers on the Web, can listen to the audio while watching the movie. Those who "cannot" are the "other" in our society and we think of the "other" mainly when it is framed in contexts that elicit our compassion, empathy, or next to a link for a charity contribution. Even when, sometimes, we are those who cannot and thus become temporarily the "other", depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in, we usually think about the needed solution when already in trouble. Consequently, equality online has been an afterthought. Just like the Federal, State, or many local school policies regarding Web accessibility; just like budgets allocated for this purposes; just like the "assistive" technology that enables it; just like ICT products that requires companies to go through "re-engineering" or "retrofitting" of their existing non-accessible products. But, lack of awareness is not the case with ADEC; accessibility matters have been discussed at the alliance Summit and on ADEC's social networking environment. Awareness alone is not enough; unfortunately, still in this day and age, the convoluted process of adding captions to movies requires resources, concentrated effort by dedicated personnel, and plenty of dosh -- it is a resources problem that ADEC is facing.2. Resources - Currently, if ADEC wanted to add captions on its Webcasts after they are aired, the organization would have to hire a professional to transcribe the webcast, and then hire a programmer and/or buy a program that would sync the transcription text file with the movie visuals. Also, allowing for a real-time transcription during the webcast would have cost more. Knowing that ADEC produces numerous webcasts each year and plans on streaming the annual Summit meeting over the Web, transcribing and captioning would cost more than putting together the entire annual meeting. Voice recognition technology could have helped tremendously, but since it is not available in any real useful way for this purpose, and since there is no law that requires ADEC to provide Web accessibility to its members, the need for accessibility features ends up being among the first to drop when budget decisions have to be made. Companies that develop ICT, large corporations and small vendors, deliver one consistent message: developing seamless voice recognition technology is a major technological challenge for which they have not been able to find a solution for a long time. Unlike technologies that have gotten us to the moon, and recently to Mars, or technologies that allow us to do microscopic surgeries and gene therapy, and ... but voice recognition technology to serve us in time/circumstances of need? That must be just too much to ask for. Or is it. Many large and small companies already have great accessibility awareness, like Desire2Learn, or Quantum Simulations; they know that designing tools with built-in accessibility is innovation in and of itself and thus they structure their companies to allow for an inclusive design of their products during the initial stages of the product development process. Even large corporations are somewhat open to change. For example, Apple, while its iTune application and webcasts used in iTune U are still inaccessible, the company now provides a built-in screen reading technology along with its OS X, making peripheral "assistive" screen readers redundant and unnecessary. In the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it is stated that "Disability is an evolving concept ... it results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others". Organizations like G3ICT and ADEC can help remove voice-recognition related barriers and ensure equality in Distance Learning and beyond by convening discussions between the various stakeholders. Some specific examples for what we can do:

We can help government policymakers to stop the policy patchwork, which generate a new law or amendment when new technological twists reach the mainstream market; we can help policymakers to motivate ICT corporations to include accessibility in the early design stages of their products; we can help ICT developers to take responsibility for providing accessibility rather than placeholders for someone else to be responsible to add it there; we can help move the federal government, and governments around the world, to allocate funds and provide other incentives to ICT companies to come together and further develop inclusive technology that in many respects is already here; we can help persons with disabilities voice their need so it is heard louder than voices of the temporarily able-bodied decision makers who use the power of the norm to dictate perspectives upon the "other"; we can help textbook publishers and e-content providers to release accessible instructional material; we can help teachers create instructional Websites that provide equal access to all their students; we can even help consumers access the Web to shop, find information, and conduct their business; and most importantly, we can help our friends, colleagues and people we have not even met yet, to stop saying "accessibili-eh??" Duh ...


Related Items:


• Australia: Mobile App Delivers Real-time Captions for Live Theater Performances

• GAAD: Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016, Worldwide

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