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Real Time Captioning Services

We’ve all seen the closed captions (CC) appearing at the bottom of a silent TV. But where do they come from? Most often from real time captioning services. These captions are composed of text designed to help the deaf and hard of hearing. Captions translate spoken words and sounds into easy-to-read text.

Real-time captions, also known as Computer Assisted Real-time Translation (CART), are created as a broadcast takes place. Captions for scripted movies and television shows are often created ahead of time, but that’s not possible for live performances. So for events like news reports, academic lectures, classes, etc., CART captions can fill that gap.

Real time captioning services are performed by a captioner who has been trained as a court reporter or stenographer. The captioner uses a stenotype machine with a specially designed phonetic keyboard. As they type, computer software turns them into captions and displays them instantly on your display screen.

Who Uses Real Time Captioning Services?

Captioning services were designed to serve people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They can be used while watching television and movies or during classes and important business meetings.

While they cannot fully take the place of a live interpreter in one-on-one interactions, they are invaluable in large assemblies. Lecture halls, business conferences, council meetings… Adding captions to your event makes it much more accessible for the hearing impaired.

While they were designed for the hearing impaired, captions also help other groups of people. People who speak English as a second language, for instance. For many people, it’s easier to read and write a foreign language than it is to understand it. This is especially true if the speaker has a heavy accent or unusual dialect.

Captioning can also be very helpful for neurodivergent people. People with ADHD, for example, can have trouble processing what others are saying, especially in a distracting or noisy environment.

For that matter, anyone might have trouble hearing over the noise of the sports bar or the gym. In these situations, closed captions can help us understand a program without bothering others. Other times the exact opposite may be true! Maybe you want to have the news on in your cubicle without bothering your coworkers, for instance.

Are Real Time Captioning Services Offered Remotely?

Real-time captions can be produced in person or remotely. Remote CART services work by sending the broadcast to the captioner. The translation is then transmitted to the event location and displays on the event screens.

This is an excellent option for a hearing-impaired student who cannot attend classes. Real time captioning services became especially vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, when teachers, students, and workers were forced to meet virtually.

What Devices Support Real-Time Captioning?

It depends on your service provider, but generally, you can access remote real-time captioning through any web-enabled device. Tablets, laptops, desktops, smartphones, etc.

What Is the Difference Between Closed Captions and Open Captions?

There are two types of captions that may appear on a screen: open and closed. Open captions cannot be turned off by the viewer. Closed captions can be turned on or off, usually in the computer or TV settings.

Closed captioning is the most common form of captions. They are used on TVs, streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix, and internet video platforms like YouTube. Many platforms will allow you to customize the caption display for readability and preference. Examples include:


  • Background color
  • Font style
  • Text size
  • Text color

The most common example of open captions is foreign-language translations in English movies. When a character speaks in Russian, for instance, the translation will appear on the screen and cannot be removed. Or, if you are watching a popular foreign film, like Amelie, the entire movie may have open captions to translate.

Open captions are almost always scripted, but you can offer irremovable translation services to your event if needed. Ask your CART provider about your options.

How Accurate is CART?

While some CART services are superior to others, generally they all have a very high accuracy rate–around 90%. Errors are usually minor but should be expected. Reasons for inaccuracy in your captions may include:

  • The captioner misunderstanding a word
  • An unfamiliar word for the translator or computer
  • An error in the software dictionary
  • Background noise obscuring the words
  • The speaker mumbling or slurring words
  • Homophones like new and knew or night and knight (most common with voice transcription)

Do I Have to Provide Captions?

The answer to this question depends on your specific circumstances. There are certain instances where the law requires you to provide accommodation for the hearing impaired. For instance, if you have a deaf or hearing-impaired employee or student. Certain government entities and local broadcasts must offer accommodations for the hearing impaired.

There are several laws that cover accessibility and accommodation for the deaf and hearing-impaired:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

This act requires that all public entities and businesses make efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied or excluded from services because of the absence of accommodating services. Captions are important “auxiliary aids”.

The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990

This act requires all televisions sold in the US (13” screens or larger) to include a built-in closed-caption decoder.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act requires almost all television programming to provide closed captioning.

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

This is an update to all federal communications laws designed to increase access for people with disabilities. That way, laws passed in the 80s and 90s update as technology advances

Depending on your situation, you may not be technically legally required to offer captions for your event or broadcast. However, not doing so can leave you open to bad press for being insensitive and politically incorrect. Better to err on the side of caution.

Who Is Exempt from Providing Captions?

  • Early-morning programs
  • Non-English programs (except for Spanish)
  • Locally produced, non-news programming
  • Textual programs
  • Nonvocal musical programs
  • Public service announcements
  • Certain advertisements

For explicit information about whether or not you are required to provide captions, check the FCC’s website. Please note that this applies to broadcasts, television, and movies. It does not apply to all businesses. Your industry may have its own compliance and rules.

Are My Captions ADA Compliant?

Some people are surprised to learn that captions are not always in-and-of-themselves ADA compliant. You still have to ensure that they are actually readable and reasonably accurate to meet ADA standards. You should also plan to meet ADA compliance for the visually impaired.

Here are a few tips to help ensure that your captions are fully ADA compliant:

  1. Use 32 characters or less per line of text
  2. Only 1-3 lines of text at a time
  3. Allow 3-6 seconds for every caption on screen
  4. Don’t use all caps or all lowercase–use both
  5. Add time codes to sync with the audio
  6. Include music, sound effects, and background noise like [laughter] and [sighs]
  7. The text should be high-contrast with the background, so it’s easy to see
  8. Make sure anyone who wants access to the captions has it
  9. Identify the speakers when more than one person is on screen
  10. Spell captions correctly when possible

If you’re not sure if your captions are ADA compliant, consult with your captioning provider. They’ll be able to help ensure that all of your ADA compliance is met.

You should receive a copy of your caption transcript after your event for use with video distribution and posting. You can send a copy of this transcript along with links to revisit the webinar or session. They will help you meet your ADA compliance guidelines.

What Functions Benefit From the Use of CART?

Using real time captioning services makes your event or broadcast much more accessible for the hearing disabled. If you have a detailed list of who will be attending your event, you may not need captions.

Likewise, if it is a small event of known individuals. Not sure if a deaf person will be attending or not? Better to err on the side of accessibility.

Remember, the hearing impaired are not the only people who benefit from captions. Many events can benefit from captioning services, including:

  • Speeches
  • Graduations
  • Courtroom proceedings
  • Workshops
  • Business conferences
  • Seminars
  • Classrooms
  • Lectures
  • Church services

Can I Offer Captioning in My Zoom Meetings?

Yes! Different CART companies offer different services, but most are able to caption a zoom meeting or event for you. They just use a special interface that connects their caption streaming platform to your zoom session.

You will have to make your captioner a panelist. Just invite them directly to the meeting about 10 minutes before the session. They will set up, perform a few functionality tests, and then you’re ready to go!

How to Get the Most Out of Your CART Services


Choose an experienced captioner/CART company

Always ask for certifications and proof of experience. Generally speaking, a provider who has their national CRR/CRC certifications has a high level of accuracy and skill.

Offer more than one option for the hearing impaired

There are several forms of hearing access technology that you can pair with real time captioning services:

  • Hearing Loops
    • A sound system designed for people with hearing aids. It provides a wireless, magnetic signal that acts as an antenna for hearing aids.
  • FM
    • FM stands for “frequency modulation.” It’s a wireless device that helps transmit audio signals to listeners. This is especially helpful in noisy situations.
  • Infrared
    • An infrared transmitter sends speech or music to a receiver through infrared light waves. This allows you to hear only what the transmitter picks up with no background noise.

Offering more than one option for the hearing impaired can help with attention and engagement. This is especially important for long speeches or events. It’s not realistic to expect someone to read and retain every word on the screen for hours on end.

Prep your captioner ahead of time

Send your captioner copies of your speech or presentation as far in advance as possible. This is especially important if it contains highly technical terminology that needs to be spelled correctly. You should also make yourself available to help with name spellings and pronunciations if necessary.

Let your captioning provider know if you’ll be using one large screen or a series of small laptops. There are different setups for different combinations of technology.

Make it easy for your captioner

Make sure that your captioner is on the guest list or that they have (free!) tickets. You’ll also want to arrange early entrance so they have time to set up. Ask your captioner what they require beforehand, but they’ll likely need:

  • A table
  • A reserved space near the front (or the stage)
  • An extension cord or outlet
  • Safety tape for the cord

Day-Of Prep

Check the display

Make sure that the display(s) are easy to see from all sections of the room. Test the captions and make sure the font is readable against the background. Make sure at least two lines of text are visible on the screen (for contextual reading). And make sure that the captions are on-screen long enough for easy reading.

Prep the speakers/presenters

Ask the speakers to speak slowly and enunciate clearly. They should also pause briefly whenever possible to allow the captioning to catch up. If you have panelists, make sure they know to speak one at a time. Talking over one another makes captioning almost impossible to read/understand.

During the Event

Monitor for quality

Don’t be afraid to step in and ask the speaker to speak louder, slower, or more clearly. If you’re afraid of breaking the moment, develop a hand-sign or signal. This will remind them to slow down.

Use a high-quality sound system

Use the best sound equipment possible so the captioner can hear clearly. If it’s possible, a direct feed from the microphones to the captioner’s headphones is ideal.

Experience Better Accessibility. For more information on real time captioning services for your event or business, contact Accurate Communication today!