CART (Communications Access Real Time) refers to any technology that allows a Deaf or HOH (hard of hearing) person to read a live conversation as text in “real time” – normally through the services of a captioner (person) trained to listen and transcribe a conversation on a computer keyboard.
I’ve had some difficulty with my hearing since young childhood (unknown cause), but have always been “functional” as a hearing person until a couple years ago (I’ll be 49 in March 2008). About then, along with some other symptoms that fit Meniere’s Syndrome (still being tested), my hearing became quite variable, and increasingly worse, such that at this point, even my best days put me at less than 100% normal speech comprehension. On some days, my un-assisted comprehension can be very close to zero.
It should be noted that my (estimated) speech comprehension on the day of this CART session was around 50%. In other words, think “Paul can understand about half of what I say.” Speech is very complex, and so is hearing loss.
This CART session came about because I was reminded (a couple weeks ahead) that I needed to attend a mandatory (for all employees) Diversity Training course conducted in-house at my workplace.
I actually requested CART for this session as something of a personal challenge to the “system”. I wasn’t overly confident I would be accommodated, but with the encouragement of my local facility administrator, I e-mailed the course instructor with my request. A few days later I got a response asking whether “remote CART” would work for me. Having no idea what was involved, I requested an explanation.
With remote CART, the captioner is not actually located in the room with the conference/conversation, but is connected to the conference via phone from the training room. The transcribed CART text was displayed on a laptop computer screen provided in the training session. The software providing the interface to the captioner in this case was “TotalRecall”.
When I arrived in the training room (about 15 minutes before start), our IT manager was working with the captioner (over the phone) to get us set up. The set up was a bit tricky, but they got it working at about the time the training session was scheduled to start.
This training session was already understood to be “not an ideal setting” for CART – as it was to be heavy in small group interactions. The captioner would not provide captioning for the small groups, only the main presentation (by the instructor). I agreed to see how this went.
As the the instructor got started, I noticed that she was a very fast speaker – although she spoke quite clearly and with good presence. I could understand much of what she was saying (sans captions) when she was facing me directly.
Unfortunately, like many good presenters, the instructor was quite animated, and did a lot of moving around. When she wasn’t directly facing me, nor near the PolyCom conference phone we were using for the captioner, neither myself, nor the captioner could understand her clearly – as evidenced by errors and omissions in the received captions. I took an opportunity to ask her to be sure to stay close to the phone as much as possible, and she did make a good effort to do so, which did improve the captioning.
About five minutes into the introduction, I noticed that the captions were starting to get very far behind – it seemed like more than a minute – so using some key phrases that I could understand through hearing, I timed them with my watch to see when they’d show up as captions – nearly two minutes elapsed in one case. This was mentioned to the captioner during a break in the training, and her response was that she felt she was keeping up well with the instructors speech, and that network delays of this length could occur.
After the class, I discussed the outcome with our IT manager, the captioner, and our facility administrator. We made the following observations:
A training class of this type isn’t an ideal venue for CART – particularly remote CART.
A captioning delay of two minutes is not practical for following the class presentation successfully.
There may be software solutions that would improve the captioning response – our IT manager will be looking into these.
Drop-outs and errors in captioning could be reduced by having the presenter wear a wireless microphone patched into the phone (for remote captioning). Our IT manager will be looking into this as well.
I have some additional observations regarding the overall process; with the exception of the captioner, the CART accommodation was new to everyone involved (including myself). Naturally there are going to be kinks in a process that no one has dealt with before.
From discussions with some people in the HOH support group I belong to (The SayWhatClub: http://www.saywhatclub.com), a general lack of experience with CART and other HOH accommodations is all too common. The HOH challenge is a “silent” one – unless one literally wears it on their sleeve, it might not even get noticed as an issue (sometimes including the HOH person – a common form of denial). This situation will likely be changing in the future, as more “late boomers” (followed closely by the “earbud” generation) enter the ranks of the HOH. While I certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I do know I stand to benefit from the increased awareness this trend may cause.
All told, even though this CART session wasn’t particularly helpful, I still consider it a “win” for all involved, as we all learned a great deal in the process. I thank all of the people mentioned above (names were omitted to protect the saintly) – they were all genuinely interested in helping me, and made great effort to do so. Technology being what it is, the “system” I was testing performed well.
Paul S (AKA LifeWrecked)