Accessibility Options: Real-time captioning

Accessibility Options: Real-time captioning

The ADA requires organizations which serve the public to effectively communicate with people who have communication disorders. They say, “the goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.” They go on to say that auxiliary aids and services must be provided when needed to communicate effectively.

“Real-time captioning” is listed as an auxiliary aid and service for achieving equal communication access. In its explanation of real-time captioning, the ADA says, “a transcriber types what is said at a meeting or an event into a computer that projects the words onto a screen.” The process of typing verbal utterances and environmental sounds goes by many names. It can be called real-time captioning, speech-to-text transcription, and voice-to-text translation, to name a few common titles.


Real-time captioning can be broken into two broad categories: verbatim and meaning-for-meaning. According to the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, NDC, verbatim real-time captioning is when, “speech-to-text service providers type nearly every word spoken, including false starts, misspeaks, and filler phrases.” They say that meaning-for-meaning real-time captioning is when, “service providers listen to spoken language and then translate it into grammatically correct written language. They will typically eliminate false starts and misspeaks.” According to the NDC, for a one hour lecture, a verbatim transcript will typically be 25 pages long while a meaning-for-meaning transcript will usually be 15 pages long.

Additionally, both verbatim and meaning-for-meaning real-time captioning can be provided using a couple of different approaches. According to the Association of Transcribers & Speech-to-text Providers, there are two organizations that develop meaning-for-meaning transcription software and training systems, C-Print and TypeWell. Verbatim real-time captioning can be broken down even further. Verbatim real-time captioning can be provided by a voicewriter or stenographer. Voicewriters use automatic speech recognition software. Stenographers are likely the most well known providers of real-time captioning. The type of verbatim real-time captioning they provide, utilizing a steno machine, can be referred to as a computer-assisted real time-time transcription, or CART. While CART technically refers to a specific type of verbatim real-time captioning, it is often generalized to refer to any real-time captioning.

With so many different names and so many different approaches, is one type of real-time captioning better than the others? That depends on the desired outcome. Verbatim real-time captioning aims to capture every utterance. Meaning-for-meaning real-time captioning seeks to capture the meaning of what is said and render it in grammatically correct English. In order to facilitate effective communication, there will be instances that call for one approach or the other.

Did you know that CART refers to specific real-time captioning service? Are there instances where you prefer verbatim or meaning-for-meaning real-time captioning? Please comment and let us know about your experiences with real-time captioning.


Association of Transcribers & Speech-to-text Providers. “About Transcribing.”

National Court Reporters Association. “What is Realtime?”

National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes. “Speech-to-Text Services: An Introduction.”

Rochester Institute of Technology. “What is C-Print?”

TypeWell. “Choosing a speech-to-text approach”

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. (2014, January 31) “ADA Requirements: Effective Communication.”

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