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Syncing Up with Automatic Sync

March 2010 Volume 4
Automatic Sync offers broadcasters, educational institutions and government agencies a transcribing and captioning service for media. CaptionSync was funded by a US Department of Education grant to research and develop a cost-effective way to automate the process of making media accessible to comply with a variety of federal and state and local laws.

Company News

AST Launches a New Public Website

AST is pleased to announce the launch of our new website, featuring an industry-specific focus on captioning uses, an expanded FAQ and How-To Tutorial section. Our new Showcase panel illustrates how several of our customers use CaptionSync with other AST services to make their media more comprehensive.

Along with a new look, the site is more interactive and rich with resources for learning about digital media types and accessibility practices. Please come and take a tour of our new site and come back often as we will be continuing to enhance the resource material on the site over the coming months.

AST has also launched an improved CaptionSync user website (see article following). If you are an existing user, your Login procedure will not change, and the default information you've entered in the past is not affected.


AST Launches an Improved CaptionSync User Website

In December 2009, AST launched an improved CaptionSync user website (the website you use when you log in to your CaptionSync account). This new site makes uploading content for captioning even easier.

Among the improved features:

  1. A new option to remember your AST Username for login
  2. The ability to access and review old News announcements
  3. Improved management of Purchase Order numbers
  4. Merged Web and Broadcast application types make easier submission for web and broadcast caption types in one upload
  5. Mouseover Tool Tips and links to the CaptionSync Support Wiki
  6. Advanced file type settings organized by chosen and available outputs for easier choices
  7. Improved upload robustness and a real-time upload progress bar
  8. Settings to check for low minute balances

You'll see improvements to our site after login, or you can see a video illustrating these changes.

Please note that if you use our bulk upload tool, AST-Link, you should ensure you have the latest version (the Windows version of AST-Link must be 1.3 or later). Go to the Help section of your account to download the latest AST-Link version.


AST Moves to Per-Minute Increment Pricing

Effective April 1, 2010, AST's pricing for captioning, transcription and result review will change to one minute resolution. The five minute per-job minimum will remain, but for jobs longer than five minutes, the job length will be measured in one minute increments. This change is effectively a price reduction for all jobs over five minutes in length, and no change for jobs less than five minutes in length. This change will affect all CaptionSync users who do not have existing contractual pricing with AST.

Customer Spotlight

College of the Mainland Produces Case Study Videos

Mainland College Video with captions


AST's customer, College of the Mainland, recently applied captions in production of a video case study project through MERLOT/ELIXR, a funded initiative of the California State University Center for Distributed Learning. See the resulting video cache: Technology Support for Engaging Learners.

MERLOT ELIXR is a digital case study repository that hosts case study videos for instructional use. Many of the contributors are universities that have previously used video content from the repository.

The MERLOT ELIXR team has done an excellent job in ensuring that the content created for the project is accessible, and AST is proud to have been the primary provider of captioning services for the project.

Legislative News

US Access-Board Drafts ICT Advisory for Sections 508/255


The US Access-Board has issued a draft of advisories for several parts of Sections 508 and 255 of the Rehabilitation Act, and focuses on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines. While this draft primarily addresses telecommunications hardware capabilities and webpage construction for best accessibility, some clarifications of captioning are included. Here is an excerpt of suggested clarifications that may apply to AST customers: Location. Electronic content procured or developed by an agency shall be covered by this part, even if the content is not located on a Federal website or at a Federal location.

Advisory E103.3.1.1 Location. A Federal video posted on a social media website is required to conform to this part. For example, under this part, a video developed by a Federal agency must be compliant without regard to whether it is posted on the agency's website or on a non-Federal third party site, without charge to the agency.

E103.3.1.2 Medium. This part applies to Federal electronic content regardless of medium.

Advisory E103.3.1.2 Medium. Electronic documents, for example, are covered regardless of whether posted on a website, attached to an email, or saved on a CD, flash drive, office server, or other medium.

See the full draft at the US Access Board's website.


event stage


TechEd 2010 - Technology in Education for the Real World  April 11 - 13, 2010, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA. AST will be exhibiting and speaking at this Conference. Please visit us at Booth 421!

EduComm 2010 - June 7 - 9, Mirage, Las Vegas, NV AST will be presenting and exhibiting at this conference for Higher Education Leaders. Visit us there at Booth #5.

Ed-Media 2010,- World Conference on Education Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications - June 29 - July 2, 2010, 1 Harbour Square, Toronto, Canada AST will be presenting a session at this conference titled "Captioning Beyond Compliance: Adding Meaning to Media"

Tech Tidbits

Automated Tools to Wreck A Nice Beach

An Overview of Automatic Speech Recognition

Automated speech recognition research has been a work in progress for a long time. The companies who took an early leadership position in this field in the 1950s proclaimed that the problem would be solved within five years. Similar proclamations have been made since, but almost 60 years later, modern speech recognition systems are still outperformed by a typical three year old child.

This is not to say we have not made progress. Speech recognition research has come a long way and the technology is commercially viable for a number of important applications -- with a couple important constraints: the recognizer must be "trained" for a particular talker, and/or have a tightly constrained vocabulary. While the allure of automated speech recognition for captioning is very compelling, typically neither of these two constraints is valid.


Speech Recognition-Based Captioning Products Continue to Appear

Despite this, every few years someone brings a speech-recognition-based captioning product to the market. The most recent one to make a splash is the new Google system for captioning YouTube videos. Manufacturers can make very impressive demos with these systems and while this makes great fodder for the press, these demos are not indicative of the actual performance you will get when captioning your own videos.

Accuracy is Critical for Accessibility

On today's typical captioning task (where neither the talker nor the vocabulary is constrained), error rates of today's speech recognition systems are in excess of 20%. To put this in perspective, readers report that error rates above 3% significantly degrade the intelligibility of text, and by the time the error rate reaches 10% they report that they are unable to even discern the topic being discussed (see our Research). To see what this looks like, try this video with the auto-captions enabled. To get the full experience, turn the sound off and see if you can follow the content.

The argument that "something is better than nothing" is often put forward for these sorts of tools, but at best this argument is valid only for "low stakes" content; these sorts of tools should not be used for high-stakes content. Speech-to-text tools have low accuracy rates that may be suitable for entertainment videos and for keyword searching. For higher stakes content, such as academic content, accuracy rates typical of speech-to-text tools have not met legal accessibility guidelines, nor have they been acceptable enough to rely on the output to deliver academic education.

For government, academic institutions, and corporations that do not want their message distorted by error, or risk civil rights lawsuits, or compromise academic integrity, a solution that ensures the best possible output is needed.

AST's Commitment to Quality Captioning

At AST, we believe that speech recognition technology is still not sufficient to provide a quality result to your viewers; captioning with a 20%+ error rate may provide comic relief, but it offers nothing in the way of accessibility. We make extensive use of automation to keep costs low, but we feel that this needs to be done without compromising the quality of the end result.

(About the title: "Wreck a nice beach" is acoustically very similar to "Recognize speech" and represents the type of recognition error that an automated system could easily make but a human transcriber is unlikely to make.)


Useful Resources

  • New VPAT Available - AST's new VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) is available for review on our website's Policies page. A VPAT is a tool used to document a product's conformance with the accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. AST works to continually improve our own accessibility and our latest improvements are reflected in this new version.

  • HR Processes Guidelines by Cornell U - Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations has published a paper discussing HR Processes and IT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities under the practices put forth by the ADA Act 1, which includes video captioning and online employee training. Download a copy here: Cornell ILR Employment & Disability Institute Collection

  • A MERLOT/ELIXR video on Designing Accessibility by CSU Sacramento's Dr. Bill Vicars is available here. Using Technology to Foster Universal Design

  • AST has completely revamped our "How-To Tutorials" section by adding - for each covered Subject - printable PDF tutorials, a YouTube video as well as QuickTime & Windows Media player versions for download, and a transcript of each. Check out the myriad of subjects covered at: and be sure to return often, as we'll be enhancing this library over the coming months.
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