These Are the Questions I Ask When Video Captioning

I’m gonna.

Are you going to?

These were captions from a video I was proofreading several years ago. In the video, a young, Black man was speaking enthusiastically about a volunteer project that he and some fellow UC Davis student-athletes were participating in. A few minutes later, an older, white UC Davis administrator, also full of enthusiasm, was asking the student questions about the project.

For many years, whenever my office produces a video, we have added captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it’s also a matter of inclusion and equity. If we want to include people who don’t hear when we share a video, and if we want to give them an equitable experience, we must provide a complete and correct written version of the spoken words.

This is a lot of work, and I am proud to help with it as a proofreader.

We usually start with a transcript of the video generated by an automated transcription service. These services have gotten better over the years, but they still make mistakes. They don’t know how to spell people’s names. They don’t always use correct punctuation. Sometimes they use the wrong word, like “feet” instead of “feat.”

And apparently, auto-transcription services sometimes treat people differently. I backed up the video and listened again. Both men I referenced above actually said “gonna.” The auto-transcriber had rendered the student’s phrasing as “gonna” and the administrator’s as “going to.” And I had almost missed it.

For me, the answer was to go back to the main purpose of the captions: inclusion and equity. While in a literal sense, the word the two men said was “gonna,” rendering it that way isn’t helpful to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, or someone who is learning English. So it made the most sense to change it to “going to” in all cases.

But this experience made me realize that I had to consider another kind of equity when proofing video captions: Am I treating everyone in the video equally and fairly? If I add punctuation for clarity, or check the spelling of names and organizations, or omit repeated filler phrases like “so, yeah,” am I applying that approach equally to everyone in the video? 

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