BYOC (Bring Your Own Captioning) for Conference Speakers

Like many forms of assistive technology, screen captions have gone mainstream. Many people with typically functional hearing are turning on the captions for a variety of reasons: private viewing in public environments, poor sound quality on individual devices, or just as an aid for paying attention.

Which works fine on one’s own device; but with public screens—and public speakers—viewers are largely dependent on the venue’s decision to provide captioning. For conference speakers who aren’t sure what will be available for their presentations, there now are options to bring your own captioning system—without having to lug bulky hardware along or learn any complicated software.

Below, BridgingApps Program Manager Amy Fuchs shares how one of the newest captioning options was a big help at the recent Net Inclusion 2024 conference.

Amy Fuchs on Caption Companion

We were so excited to learn about Caption Companion when Margaret Downs (the team leader behind its creation) got in contact. It was perfect timing, happening just when I had been looking for an affordable way to caption our accessibility panel at Net Inclusion. I knew that the conference committee from NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) had already planned to have a “communication access real-time translation” (CART) service ready for use on request, and this is a common choice for event captioning.

However, experience had taught our panel that the accommodations-on-request approach can be risky: the people who would most benefit from captioning sometimes don’t know how to ask for it, or won’t ask because they’re afraid of “looking different.” Especially since we were emphasizing what the general population should know about disability inclusion, we wanted to ensure captioning for everyone. Based on Margaret’s description of Caption Companion, I thought it could really enhance the conference experience. I pitched that to the NDIA planning committee, and they enthusiastically said, “Let’s go for it!”

Margaret and her team at Premier Visual Voice (the company behind Caption Companion) were happy to let us borrow a device. By the time we got to Net Inclusion, NDIA had upgraded its own accommodations to Google Slides for all conference sessions, and that was a great opportunity to compare captioning. Google Slides requires an internet connection and does not support adding custom words. The captioning is pretty accurate, but when I checked actual captions at the sessions I attended, Caption Companion got more of the speakers’ words correct.

The best features of the Caption Companion are its portability and ease of use. We were pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of its AI (artificial-intelligence) captioning, which works best when the device is plugged directly into an audio source. (During our panel, it was connected to the audio system that included microphones used by panelists and participants.) Another great feature is that the Caption Companion allows a (human) professional captioner to connect in real time, to ensure even greater accuracy.

More details about the Caption Companion are on the Premier Visual Voice website. A few basics:

  • Caption Companion supports the inclusion of custom words and names.
  • AI captioning is unlimited and can be used without an internet connection.
  • There are no ongoing subscription fees.
  • Captions can be viewed directly on the device, connected to a screen or projector for the large view, or be used as a floating-window screen overlay.
  • When hosting a large event, press conference, or other program where precise captioning is important, it’s recommended (and easy) to have a human captioner connect remotely.

And a closing tip for conference attendees who could benefit from captioning—or from sign-language interpreters, or any other accommodations you aren’t positive will be included. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and speak up early! Conference coordinators need time to make the necessary arrangements. And the more people who take initiative to request accommodations, the more people are able to fully participate—and the closer we get to the ideal where every conference registration form will make it simple to ask.


See Also: Caption Companion with Margaret Downs,” on the Assistive Technology Update podcast from Easterseals Crossroads, February 23, 2024.

Leave a Reply