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Here are frequently asked questions of the NDC | Help Team. Search by topic, or scroll through the archive. If you have a question, please ask us. Want to be alerted when new FAQs are posted? Join the NDC listserv.


FAQs About Speech to Text Services

  • Association of Transcribers and Speech-to-text Providers (ATSP) offers a directory of individuals and agencies.

  • National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has a directory of certified members.

  • Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) houses a list of vendors, mainly for captioned media service providers, but some companies offer real-time speech-to-text services as an additional service.

  • Many states have state affiliated agencies supporting deaf and hard of hearing people that offer information and referrals to speech-to-text providers.

  • Subscribe to the NDC Listserv and seek additional service provider referrals from colleagues.

Automatic captions - Also referred to as speech-recognition, automated captioning, or auto-captions, are generated by a computer with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. These captions tend to lack punctuation, speaker identification, and require a human to fix mistakes.

Many platforms include this feature, such as:

  • Video streaming platforms (e.g. YouTube automated captions or Microsoft PowerPoint Translator)

  • Apps (e.g., Translate or Otter.ai)

  • Learning Management Systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas)

  • Live video streaming services (e.g., Google Meet)

Captions - Also referred to as open/closed captions or subtitles. These are captions for pre-recorded video content that are time-synced and embedded into the media. Accurate and edited captions provide equivalent access. Captions also provide auditory information that ASR technology may not be able to identify.

Real-time captioning - Also referred to as live captioning or speech-to-text services. This service is provided by a qualified speech-to-text professional. Examples: Live captioning for news broadcasts or by a third-party vendor streamed into Blackboard for a synchronous online class.

Transcribe/Transcription - Also referred to as a transcript. This process involves converting audio into a plain text document. Transcripts are commonly used for stand-alone audio, such as podcasts or presentations without video. They are also used as the first step towards creating captions for media. Transcripts can be auto-generated using ASR or by speech-to-text professionals.

Substituting one accommodation for another when not requested by the deaf student can cause barriers to access. It is important to engage the deaf student in an interactive process to gain a better understanding of their communication access needs in a variety of settings. Depending on whether your institution is public (Title II) or private (Title III), who determines accommodations varies, but ultimately the accommodation must provide effective communication. The goal of effective communication is to ensure the deaf student is able to communicate, receptively and expressively, with others. If a deaf student primarily uses sign language to communicate and requests interpreting services, a qualified interpreter should be provided.

Substituting one accommodation for another when not requested by the deaf student can cause barriers to access. It is important to engage the deaf student in an interactive process to gain a better understanding of their communication access needs in a variety of settings. Depending on whether your institution is public (Title II) or private (Title III), who determines accommodations varies, but ultimately the accommodation must provide effective communication. The goal of effective communication is to ensure the deaf student is able to communicate, receptively and expressively, with others. If a deaf student primarily uses sign language to communicate and requests interpreting services, a qualified interpreter should be provided.

Each video conferencing platform is unique. Some schools may use a stand-alone video conferencing platform while some are integrated into the Learning Management System (LMS):

  • Connect with your IT department and learn more about your platform’s features for remote interpreting and real-time captions. Research your platform’s knowledge base or support website.

  • Work with the instructor to ensure providers have the appropriate permissions within the platform, and know how to support pinning, spotlighting, streaming captions, sharing screens, and other features to help maintain access to service providers. If time permits, conduct a practice run with the instructor, provider, and student to determine what works best.

  • If real-time captions cannot be synced in the platform, explore alternative options for viewing. If access to the interpreter’s video is not ideal, consider a multi-platform approach. For example, the student and interpreter can still be logged into the class platform and use a separate video platform for direct communication access.

  • Ensure that students are aware of how videos appear on their screen (gallery, side-by-side, etc.), to configure their view of the interpreter and others. Students may need more than one device (e.g. a laptop and tablet) to access an online course and accommodation services simultaneously.

Service providers (university staff, hourly and contracted employees) are bound by the same employee requirements as any other university employee, and are expected to adhere to the confidentiality framework outlined by FERPA. Furthermore, service provider professions each have their own codes of professional and ethical conduct which addresses confidentiality. While service providers may share important details with their team or the coordinator on a "need to know'' basis, the service provider will not share details about the student's disability with the instructor or information shared during the assignment to others. The only exceptions that apply are the federal and state laws of mandated reporting. Violating confidentiality can be addressed through the university (as an employer) and through the appropriate certification body.

If your school offers in-person classes with a limited seating capacity following safe distancing measures, don’t forget to add the interpreter and/or speech-to-text providers in the room count. Notify the instructor and the department as soon as possible to ensure the service provider (or team of providers) is included in the official room count.

If providing interpreters or speech-to-text services for in-person classes is not possible, discuss with the student about using remote services. Consider the following arrangements: 

  • The student attends the class in-person while the service providers are remote (on campus in another location or from an off-campus location).

  • The service providers are in the classroom while the student utilizes remote services from another location.

  • If the class is available online to remote participants, the student and service providers can also consider the following: 

    • The student and service providers can meet in another room on campus while streaming the class or 

    • The student and service providers can access the course from separate remote locations, while staying online only.

While remote services may appear convenient, please review the guiding questions in the Providing Remote Access Services tool. This tool covers the technical capacity needed and potential barriers to the course format that the student and service providers may experience.

It is a common misconception that service providers (interpreters and speech-to-text professionals), as a third party, may be a violation of HIPAA. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explains the allowance of service providers whether remote, in-person or via telecommunications relay service (TRS); including obligations to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Additionally, protecting consumer privacy is reinforced through confidentiality clauses in service provider codes of ethics: 

Watch in ASL

Before classes begin:

  • Make sure service providers have access to the Learning Management System (LMS, such as Canvas or Blackboard), or are able to receive emails from the instructor.

  • Do a practice run using the platforms and find out what works best (for example, experiment with viewing the interpreter in a split screen or through dual monitors or practice pinning the interpreter). Make sure you, your service providers and the disability services office have a back-up plan in case technology fails.

During class:

  • Communicate with your service providers. Let them know if something is not working, if your video/captioning stream is choppy, or it is hard to see the interpreter.

  • If using interpreters, work out a strategy for them to let you know when they will switch, allowing you time to locate the team interpreter’s video.

Troubleshooting tips

  • Communicate with your service providers while online. Consider using a live chat or messaging platform to stay in touch during the class.

  • Learn how to troubleshoot with the platforms or systems being used to connect with your service provider(s). Discuss your preferences, such as lightning and background color before classes begin.

For group tutoring sessions, check with the deaf student to see what accommodations would be most effective in this type of setting. If they request speech-to-text or interpreting services, coordinate these services the same way you would for any online appointment.

  • Remind students they should continue to follow the same procedures to request accommodations.

  • Discuss what options are available for the student, tutor and service provider to get connected on the platform being used.

  • Have a back-up plan or a second option to connect virtually (e.g., logging onto a different platform).

  • For one-on-one tutoring situations, consider using interactive approaches (e.g., Google Docs) to support visual support with chat features in one screen to discuss back and forth.

For more information:
Remote Access Services
Tutoring Deaf Students