Two accessibility lawyers walk into a festival. Where are the captions?

Two accessibility lawyers walk into a festival. Where are the captions?

If you’re organizing a virtual event, plan to include captioning. Deaf people deserve access, too. If you invite two accessibility lawyers to speak AND still don’t provide captioning… Annapolis, we have a problem.

A link to my memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law


Haben speaking. Hello! Something wild happened today. Several months back the Annapolis Book Festival invited me to talk about my book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. And my friend, a disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold would talk to me about my book and accessibility.

So today, 30 minutes before that conversation was scheduled to start, the festival tells us there isn’t going to be any captioning. Two accessibility lawyers are invited to an event to talk about accessibility, and they’re told there won’t be any captioning! The lack of captioning excludes deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

It’s one of the ways to provide access. So all attendees, whether deaf or hearing, can participate. It also helps a lot of people who are in sound-off situations for whatever reason, so that they could also have access to the c≈aptioning. So I told the event, I’m not going to participate. I’m not going to give a talk.

if there’s no captioning. When I was in law school, one of the biggest lessons was sometimes you have to give a firm “No.” This can be hard for a lot of people. There is a lot of focus on working together, collaborating, but sometimes you need to provide a firm, “No.” And that firm no can lead to solutions and collaborations down the line.

When I said no to giving a talk in an inaccessible environment, they started to take captioning more seriously. A lot of people deprioritize captioning. I can understand organizers feeling overwhelmed with so many things you need to do for an event, but captioning is not something you can shove to the bottom of the list.

It needs to be prioritized. So about 20 minutes before the session was supposed to start, they started looking into captioning options. There are auto-captioning services. Zoom supports auto-captioning. The problem with this is that it’s riddled with errors. My name is often misinterpreted to “happen.”

I’m not “happen” I’m Haben. And if you’re trying to read the captions, to access the event just through the captions, a lot of things are misunderstood and confused. And that’s not fair. There are situations where I can understand why someone would use auto-captioning. Maybe they truly don’t have the resources to pay for professional captioning.
But I strongly recommend, please use professional captioning services. MIT and Harvard were sued because they were posting many videos without captions, which denies access to deaf and hard of hearing people. And the schools tried to argue, “Hey, there are captions!” And they pointed to the auto-captions.

Auto-captioning is not equal. Auto-captioning is not equivalent to accurate, professional captions. So this is a reminder for festival hosts, event organizers: prioritize captioning. It’s not optional. And, lawsuits are extremely expensive and time consuming. Learn from Harvard and MIT’s mistakes. If you don’t know how to caption your events, ask! Research.

There are lots of resources out there. Many tools to choose from. Prioritize accessibility. Access for deaf and hard of hearing audiences matters, too. If you enjoyed the video, drop a comment, like the video, or subscribe to the channel.