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Real-time captioning helps overcome hearing loss: Neeson

By Rob Lamberti, Contributor

Real-time captioning offers opportunities for those hard-of-hearing to integrate in school and work, says Neesons Court Reporting founder and president Kim Neeson.

She tells that Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is used in courts, workplaces, meetings and conventions, and even at schools, and it helps put people with hearing issues on the same field as everyone else.

Some 3 million Canadians have hearing loss, the largest disability in the country, according to the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA).

"If one's hearing is significantly compromised, sign language doesn't help unless the person knows how to read sign," Neeson says. "But they do understand the written word, so we become their ears."

The service is provided either in person or remotely through electronic devices and programs to provide instant voice-to-text translation for display, Neeson says.

Her staff uses shorthand providing a blazing 225 words or more per minute with a near perfect accuracy level.

CART can also help those who use English as a second language or have a cognitive impairment by both hearing and reading to help them fully understand what is going on, Neeson says.

Neeson highlights an example of the service for university students where they can read what lecturers are saying in class.

An 18-year-old student studying for an MBA was struggling to hear what was being discussed, even with a hearing aid. The CART service allowed him to maintain his studies in university and he became an advocate for students with disabilities, Neeson says.

"We work with employees of large banks who are in a department where they have to be in meetings and they need assistance. We provide them with what's happening in the meeting and we do it in an almost verbatim way," she says.

Neeson says firm's services "level the playing field" for those who have a hearing loss.

A student who has hearing difficulties will miss much of what is being discussed in class.

"How would you pass, be on the same level as the rest of the student body?" Neeson asks. "If you had someone real-time captioning, you would be reading exactly what's happening. That student would be able to participate in the same way as those without hearing issues."

In group discussions, Neeson says a multidirectional microphone would be used so stenographers can put the dialogue into text, and the student using the service would be able to participate.

"They can be part of something and not left out," she says. "Those with hearing loss could become isolated, feeling they're not part of the discussion because they can't hear properly.

"We've helped students go through their bar admission course because they have hearing loss," she says. "It doesn't mean they can't be a lawyer at the end of the day. But it helps them 'hear' what is being said in class."

Neeson says CART is compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

She says a stenographer may be on-site with the technology linked to a big screen or computers to provide instant word-for-word, voice-to-text translation for display, or connected through the internet.

"One of the nice things about the technology we use is that you could have a hearing loss and no one else knows," Neeson says. "That's important in the context of a classroom, where a student doesn't want to be singled out. We provide captioning through the internet.

"We listen to the classroom discussion through readily available apps on the student's laptop, or the professor may wear a wireless microphone. We are tuned into that and then we meet the student up in the cloud," she explains. "We are listening from our office, it's being translated through our captioner's software and it's being sent to the cloud where the student gets the captioning on their laptop while sitting in the classroom."

Neeson says notes are also sent to students.

In the courtroom, she says her company's service has worked with lawyers, the accused and witnesses.

Stenographers sit in court or in a room during discovery recording the material and discussions to provide real-time captioning to those who need it.

"We find ourselves in courtrooms all the time providing services, so the participant fully understands what is going on in that room," Neeson says.

"As opposed to note-taking, which is summarizing what is being said and, by the very nature of that, the notetaker is deciding something is more important than something else, what we are doing is primarily verbatim so that it is up to the person whose ears we become to make the decision of what's important, and drawing their own conclusions. That's the big difference between note-taking and captioning," Neeson says.

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