How Live Captions Allow for Greater Inclusion

Google and others are helping people watch words instead

Key Takeaways

  • Live captions can help users understand each other during video chats.
  • Google is bringing its Live Caption technology to any website with the new version of Chrome.
  • Another option for live captions is the transcription service Otter.ai, which provides both live captions and transcripts.
couple cuddling and watching a movie on a video projector with subtitles on
nadia_bormotova / Getty Images

Advancements in live caption technology are making web communications clearer and helping those with disabilities. 

Google is bringing its Live Caption technology to any website with the new version of Chrome. The feature tries to turn any audio source on the web into text displayed on your screen. For some users, the captions are more than a convenience. 

"Many people with ADHD and other neuro divergences use captions in order to assist with processing language and information, myself included," Catie Osborn, a TikTok user with more than 400,000 followers, said in an email interview. "Captions are not just for the deaf or hard of hearing, and many users are frustrated with TikTok for their lack of accessible captioning."

Not Just for Video

Google’s Live Captions also will work for files saved to your hard drive when you open them in the browser. Google claims this support also extends to social and video sites, podcasts and radio content, personal video libraries (such as Google Photos), embedded video players, and most web-based video or audio chat services. It currently only supports English.

Osborn said that, as a Twitch streamer, she has a separate program that provides live captions on her stream, and users can choose to turn them on or off, "but it's not a perfect system."

She’s also a podcaster, and said that "having the ability to use Live Captions means that we can upload our podcast to sites like YouTube or Vimeo and have live-time captions available. It's a huge deal that Chrome will be able to handle this functionality for users in real-time."

"Many people with ADHD and other neuro divergences use captions in order to assist with processing language and information."

The responsibility to provide captions previously had fallen onto the individual creator, Osborn pointed out. To create a video, she processes it through a separate captions app, then re-uploads it to TikTok.

"So many users just don't provide captions, which has created a systemic lack of access for the caption-using community," she added.

Options Abound for Transcription

There are many other options available for those who don’t use Chrome if you want to include live captions. Google’s Meet video chat service, for example, also provides live captions. 

Another option is the transcription service Otter.ai, which provides both live captions and transcripts. Otter CEO Sam Liang said in an email interview that he uses the live-captioning service himself. 

"In the software industry, we routinely work with engineers in different countries or those in our own country whose primary language is not English," he added. "Our live captioning improves understanding and enriches the meeting."

Otter also can record and transcribe meetings so participants can review the notes later for reference, search them, or pass them along to colleagues who may not have been able to attend the meeting, Liang pointed out. 

"This has been particularly invaluable as remote workers seek work-life balance while working at home and supporting their children in distance learning or providing childcare," he said. Live captions also can help those with accessibility issues. such as hearing impairments and those for whom English is not their primary language.

"So many users just don't provide captions, which has created a systemic lack of access for the caption-using community."

InnoCaption is another app that provides captions and is aimed at those hard of hearing. The developer claims InnoCaption is the only mobile application that provides real-time captioning of phone calls using live stenographers or automatic speech recognition. 

Some users like to use captions for entertainment, as well as work. Candace Helton, operations director at Ringspo, said she likes to use captions when watching videos. 

"Most of the time, I would play a video for a minimum of three to five times to get the content completely," she said. "But with the help of live captions, posts and reports were very much understood easier, and the audience enjoyed watching more."

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