Mary ReillyMary Reilly, a captioned media specialist for the University of Michigan, works with instructors to ensure students who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to captioned videos. She has presented in the past about how institutions can provide captioning easily and inexpensively.

Q: How do you get instructors involved in ensuring that videos used in their courses are captioned?

A: When we contact professors to let them know that there are students enrolled in their classes who will need accommodations such as note takers, we also take that opportunity to ask if they have any videos they plan to use that need captioning. If so, I ask them to send me the videos and I then caption them.

We do have the occasional professor who wonders why captioning is necessary, or even finds it distracting and as a result doesn’t want to use it. For instance, if we’re talking about a film class, where the content on the screen is more important than what’s being said, objections are more likely to arise. But by and large, the professors I come into contact with recognize the importance of captioning and are very willing to cooperate.

The trouble I run into somewhat frequently is that instructors do not always know how to work with the technology. So even though I’ve provided captioning for a video, if additional equipment or steps are needed, they may just come back and say it didn’t work. So sometimes I have to find someone to install the needed equipment and/or train faculty members on how to use the captioning.

Q: Is the volume of captioning requests ever a problem? If so, how do you handle that?

A: This semester we saw a big bump in demand, and it was quite a surprise. But in the past, I could usually handle it all on my own pretty well. I have thought about hiring students on a part-time basis and training them on the captioning work for times when there’s simply too much work for me to do alone.

One thing that has always helped is that we contact professors as soon as students register for classes, so that we know with some lead time whether captioning will be necessary. That allows me to spread out the work.

Q: What advice would you have for disability services providers wanting to make captioning a priority?

A: In recent years, captioning has become easier to do. For instance, YouTube now makes it pretty easy to add captions to its videos. And Amara.org provides a really simple, step-by-step way of creating captioning.

However, there’s no one magic bullet. I’d recommend that institutions consider devoting some real resources to this, whether it’s contracting with a vendor or having someone in house specifically dedicated to captioning.

For more information, you may contact Mary Reilly at reillym@umich.edu.