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3 Universities Embracing Captioning for More Inclusive Graduation Ceremonies

By: Aylin Dunham
Image of a graduating student and her grandmother watching a graduation ceremony on a laptop.

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As more learning and events continue to be offered virtually with opportunities to participate in-person or remotely, the graduation experience is no exception.

AutomaticSync spoke with leaders from multiple universities to gain insight into the strategies they’re using to meet these new expectations. We found that they’re putting more thought into the attendee experience both in-person and virtually. Institutions are more proactively implementing inclusive attendee practices for their graduations and aiming to make this special moment more inclusive so it can be shared by all students and the campus community.

Read below to get their takes on:

  • Why it’s important to invest in inclusivity for graduations
  • What technologies can make graduations more accessible
  • What leaders at other institutions should be considering
  • How to best garner useful feedback from attendees

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Leaders at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are embracing a technology-first approach to make their graduations more inclusive.

They’ve launched an accessibility web page that shares parking and seating details for individuals with mobility-related disabilities and are leveraging captioning to support their ceremonies. These technologies have helped make their events accessible to all graduation attendees and viewers.

Specifically, they’re partnering with AutomaticSync to deliver a unique captioning stream to participants. It can be easily accessed on the phones of in-person ceremony attendees or viewed online as they broadcast the event.

“We use the link from AutomaticSync and then we publish it on the website and share a QR code to it in the graduation pamphlet,” said Troy Carroll, IT Team Leader at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “People can scan it from their phones and pull up the captioning stream, even when attending in-person.”

Making graduations inclusive and equitable has become a long-term priority for leaders at UTC.

“We’ll continue to use this captioning even if we move back to face-to-face ceremonies. Just like all schools, we have a duty to make everything accessible for everyone. That’s why every video we stream, every video posted online, regardless of what it is, gets captioned,” said Carroll.

Image of a graduating student and his family member watching a graduation ceremony on their TV.

Lewis University

At Lewis University, institutional leaders made their ceremonies inclusive by first considering the diverse pool of individuals attending. From students themselves to their family members to non-native viewers to faculty members with access needs, all are being considered in the process.

“Our graduation ceremonies are open to the public, and we don’t always know who our audience will be,” said Angelia Martinez, Learning Access Coordinator at Lewis University. “The Deaf and hard of hearing community, international students, students with learning disabilities – all of these individuals and more are watching our graduation.”

To make their ceremony inclusive of a diverse audience, Lewis University invested in captioning tools to provide attendees watching in-person and online with equitable viewing.

“Having the captions from AutomaticSync is really helpful because we want to make sure that those watching from home are also included,” said Martinez. “We actually had parents and family of students who are not Deaf attend and contact the provost afterward stating, ‘Wow thank you so much for making this event accessible for us,’” said Martinez.

Leaders like Martinez see the value in not only providing accessibility tools, but in creating ways to garner feedback from attendees and their families post-event and analyze what they did right or could do better for the next semester. This approach of being proactive and always learning is having a positive impact on all of Lewis’ graduation attendees and viewers.

Image of a graduating student and his family member chatting and watching a graduation ceremony on their TV.

University of Akron

University of Akron leaders are committing to offering greater flexibility and access to their graduations by finding ways to engage and include their audiences. Captioning and transcription of what’s being shared audibly has become a key component of this strategy.

“We really needed to bring that live captioning card into our ceremonies,” said Heather Rose, Disability Specialist and Service Coordinator at the University of Akron. “If someone comes to graduation and they need that live captioning, they’re given the link to the stream. They can use this link to then watch the transcription on the YouTube channel,” said Rose.

Like many schools, UA leaders understood that built-in captioning provided by platforms like Facebook, Zoom and YouTube often misses the mark. They’re auto generated and often contain errors which make the dialogue difficult to follow, especially by those with disabilities who rely on captions and word-for-word transcripts to participate.

“We don’t find YouTube captions accurate enough to meet ADA compliance,” said Rose. It was critical to meet these important accessibility benchmarks to ensure an inclusive experience, and it led them to consider AutomaticSync and Verbit’s education solution for their ceremonies. “It’s also helping attendees with attention deficit disorder, auditory processing disorder and learning disabilities. All of them benefit from having that visual support,” said Rose.

While auto generated and streaming and the technologies involved may sound intimidating to some, AutomaticSync serves as an essential partner for graduation ceremonies due to its ease of use and direct integration into the platforms being used to host graduation ceremonies.

“We’re not technicians, so tapping into resources from AutomaticSync and Verbit really helped us,” she said.

Institutional leaders no longer need to fear the process of delivering greater access with AutomaticSync’s specialized tools and team which is available to assist them through every step of the process at any hour of the day.

Image of a graduating student and their family member posing next to a TV which is streaming the student's graduation ceremony.

Captioning is just one step in accelerating progress

While these captioning-focused success stories showcase some of the great work being done by institutions to include more audience members, captioning is just one piece of the accessibility puzzle. There are many additional adjustments – physically and virtually – institutions must consider to make their events inclusive.

AutomaticSync can serve as an essential partner to institutions as they look to transform their events and ceremonies to make them more accessible. We’re working with the likes of California State University, South Dakota State University and Indiana University, among others, on their inclusion strategies. Reach out to learn more about live captioning tools and our specialized education team to assist you in your efforts.