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Video Accessibility: The Marathon Becomes a Sprint

By: Kevin Erler, Ph.D.
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[Editor’s note: This post was updated on October 7, 2020, with new information about our eCART offering.]

For over 16 years, we have worked with you in the trenches in the effort to make educational video more accessible and more inclusive. We’re proud of the collaborative work we’ve done over the years with leading education organizations and enterprises to make video more accessible.  But the truth is we’ve always looked at our work as being more akin to a marathon than a sprint. We built AST and its processes to be successful over the long haul.  Improvements were slow but steady.  We steadily brought down costs while at the same time working to continuously improve quality. We worked to increase throughput and reduce turnaround times, but we were also always committed to never compromising the security or privacy of your data. We added new features and services, but always with an eye toward not disrupting the processes of our customers too suddenly.  In the past couple months, however, our marathon has suddenly pivoted to a sprint. I’m sure many of you, our clients, feel the same way.

Many organizations have faced tremendous new challenges in dealing with the fallout from the pandemic; for AST, our challenges are rooted in the dramatically increasing demand for services coupled with a significant tightening of the available pool of skilled professionals.  As schools and workplaces rapidly moved online during the spring and summer, the demand for both live captioning and post-production captioning skyrocketed. At the same time, many of our team members had to reduce their hours to care for children who could no longer go to daycare, or to assist other family members affected by the pandemic. In many ways we feel we were put in the same bind faced by many hospitals; they wanted to provide the top-quality care that they were known for, but they didn’t have the resources needed to meet the surge in demand.  The result was queues, delays, and some customers who were turned away. We admit that we have fallen victim to many of these same problems.  We have been steadily working to increase our capacity over the past several months, but our acceleration has simply not kept pace with the rapid increase in demand.

That said, we do have many success stories to report. The amount of post-production captioning produced by our team the last few months is well over double what we did in the same period last year! In live captioning, it is even more dramatic:  we are delivering more than 12 times the number of live captioning hours we delivered in the same period last year.

Another piece of good news is that last week we introduced a new fallback live captioning service called eCART. This service uses automatic speech recognition (also known as ASR), combined with real-time editors, to provide a very scalable option for adding live accessibility.   This solution is offered to clients as a fallback whenever we are unable to staff your event with one of our professional CART writers or text interpreters. This alternative is not up to the standards of professional CART, so if you are providing an accommodation you may want to have a conversation with the individual to see if this solution is appropriate. If we are not able to staff all of your events with our professional CART writers, you may want to consider eCART as a fallback option. With the addition of this offering to our service line-up we believe we have the most complete suite of video accessibility services in the market; no matter what you you need in the way of video accessibility, we have you covered.

We know that our entire industry is facing capacity challenges, but we are still not pleased with the way this has impacted us and our clients;  please know that we are working non-stop to rectify these issues. We are working to get better at communicating which services are over capacity, and when clients can expect their results (or how far in advance they should plan, in case of live events).  But as with other essential services, if we work together with you, our clients, we will get through this together. Our commitment to our clients during these challenging times is unwavering. Our first priority is to provide clients video accessibility services that provide equally effective communication to learners. We will not take shortcuts that might compromise these goals, but we will continue to steadily increase our capacity to deliver results and improve in our efforts to communicate effectively with you.