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Radio Captioning

Towson University and NPR Help Make Radio Accessible for Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Audiences

Because it is entirely audible, radio has typically been an inaccessible medium for persons who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind.  Not only are persons with auditory limitations unable to enjoy the same radio broadcasts as others, they were unable to access important alerts and information broadcast during emergencies.

However, researchers in Maryland have been working to make radio accessible. In 2008, Towson University collaborated with NPR Labs, the research division of National Public Radio, to create the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (iCART), which is headquartered at Towson University.  iCART’s mission is to “design and advocate for accessibility features to be included as radio broadcasting accelerates the global transition to digital transmission.” To learn more about iCART, visit i-CART’s website. http://www.i-cart.net/

One significant development in radio accessibility is radio captioning, which translates the broadcasts from speech to text in real-time.  Here are some of the recent developments that are making NPR broadcasts accessible:

Radio Captioning – Radio captioning work similarly to closed captioning on television. Words and sounds that make up the NJPR broadcast are translated into text. This text can then be broadcast over a dedicated radio channel to a special radio with a built-in screen, which shows the text as it is being translated and transmitted. These services are also available over the Internet as well as a dual-screen radio captioning device. Designed for use in cars, this device allows the passenger to follow the captioned NPR broadcast and allows the driver to listen to the broadcast at the same time. The side of the screen facing the driver’s side provides the captioning for what is being played on the radio broadcast. Since, of course, the driver can’t read a broadcast while driving, the part of the screen on the driver’s side shows the driver a real-time image of the car’s location (providing GPS assistance). The device also broadcasts the radio program audibly.

Braille radio – Beginning in the summer of 2011, NPR Labs debuted its work in developing Braille radio. As with radio captioning, this device would provide a written caption for the radio broadcast – only instead of presenting it as text on a screen, the radio would be compatible with a refreshable Braille display. A deaf-blind user could plug in their own refreshable Braille display to the radio and follow along with the broadcast in real-time.

For information on the history of radio captioning, click here http://www.nprlabs.org/research-ar.html

For more information on the recent work done with Braille captioning, click on this link for the story from an NPR affiliate. http://www.wvxu.org/news/wvxunews_article.asp?ID=8926

And follow this link for information on the award-winning contributions made by Towson University faculty to radio captioning. http://www.towson.edu/main/abouttu/newsroom/sheffield101510.asp

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