from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico
Albuquerque - The explosion of video and audio on the Internet has, for the most part, left the deaf community behind in New Mexico and elsewhere, but that is beginning to change. Google has announced it will add automatic caption capability to videos on YouTube. Most of the television shows broadcast over-the-air feature closed captioning, but groups advocating for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community say it's a whole different story when it comes to video on the Internet.
Most sites that feature videos don't offer captioning, although there is a bill in Congress that would require them to do so. Kerry Malak of the Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing says the situation has resulted in a type of "caste system" on the Web, "It's really kind-of created this new divide between the hearing and severely hard-of-hearing deaf populations." Malak says the recent announcement from Google that automatic caption capability is being added to videos on YouTube is a step in the right direction. According to Google, machine-generated captions will initially be available only in English, and on videos from thirteen YouTube partner channels, but it hopes to eventually extend the feature to all videos uploaded to the site.
Congressional bill, HR 3101, has 25 co-sponsors, but none from New Mexico. But as more people shift to the Internet to view their news and entertainment, the lack of captioning becomes a greater concern, according to Malak, "Most of the online TV content is not captioned at all yet either, which is a big problem, because you are used to seeing that on your TV."
Google's audio engineers say background noise and strong accents pose a challenge to creating precise captions from the spoken word, but they expect voice recognition technology to continue to improve. More than 10 million Americans have some form of hearing loss...and Malak says that number is expected to grow as baby boomers age, which means high demand for quality closed-captioning systems.
Constitutents who are concerned about this issue are urged to contact New Mexico Representatives Martin Heinrich, Harry Teague or Ben Ray Lujan and ask them to co-sponsor and support HR 3101.