Water, Water, Everywhere

Posted by Max on April 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm. Captioning, Consumer Advisory Board

One of our fantastic Consumer Advisory Board members, Michelle Rich,  just paid a visit to the  Georgia Aquarium.  Read on to find out what she and her family discovered there!

Megan and Keegan Marvel at Jellyfish

Megan and Keegan Marvel at Jellyfish

An Inclusive Exploration of the Georgia Aquarium

My family recently relocated to beautiful Atlanta, Georgia after living in Kansas for the past 16 years.  For months we have been visiting the landmarks and tourist hot spots, and participating in the rich culture of the South.  Our unanimous favorite is the Georgia Aquarium.  Since three of the five of us have varying levels of hearing loss, our adventures in any new venue involve finding ways to have an inclusive experience.  In this visit to the Aquarium, I wanted to explore the accessibility features for both deaf/hard of hearing with my 16 year old daughter who is hard of hearing and get the basic experience that a blind/low vision visitor might have, even though I am sighted.  We had an exciting day with many barriers to access broken down while at the same time seeing some room for improvement in others.

You Can Really Get INTO The Fish!

You Can Really Get INTO The Fish!

The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the world, with over 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water and more diverse aquatic life than any other aquarium representing 500 different species.   Whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, beluga whales, loggerhead sea turtles, penguins, corals, and piranha, to name a few are among the 100,000 animals found at the aquarium.  It is divided into six main galleries:  Cold Water Quest, Tropical Diver, Georgia Explorer, River Scout, Dolphin Tales, and Ocean Voyager.  There is a seventh gallery that is currently running an exhibit on Frogs.

Planning is always a good start for an adventure and we began ours on the website reading about the animals we would encounter and the accessibility features of the aquarium.  The website features animal fact sheets and tutorials, You Tube videos, and live webcams in the various galleries.  The website does not contain captions, but does allow for automatically generated captions.  For consumers of captions, these translations are better than nothing, but do miss the mark in some important areas. For example, on the video titled, “Beluga Whale Pregnancy: Chapter 1,” the audio states that there is a low success rate in cetacean birth whereas the transcription interprets the audio as there is a lot of success in cetacean  birth.  Clearly the transcription does not deliver the intended message here.  Additionally, audio description is needed on all of the videos to fully experience the scenery.  There is a vast amount of educational information available on the website to digest in preparation for the visit.  The website highlights accessibility features for guest with hearing or visual exceptionalities.  It would be helpful to have those features outlined and available for guests at the information booth once you arrive as well.

Each gallery ran an educational video about the exhibit with captions, thus affording access for those with hearing loss.  With all of the ambient sounds in the galleries, the captions are a huge benefit to the hearing guest as well.  An option for audio description would be a valuable addition to the educational videos.  Although we did not request animal models, they are purportedly available in each gallery.  We experienced some tactile wood carvings of animals in the River Scout exhibit.

Captioned Whale Video on Theater

Captions Help Everyone in the Noisy Environment

One of our favorite areas in the aquarium are the touch pools where guests can reach in and feel small bonnethead sharks, stingrays, and shrimp.  There is wheelchair access to the pools and staff members are available to personally assist those with visual exceptionalities.     Staff members narrate the touch pools over a microphone to the audience.  A speech-to-text program to translate the dialogue into text might be something to explore for d/hh guests in this area.

Dolphin Tales is a spectacular 30 minute production incorporating acrobatic dolphins and Broadway-quality singing, dancing, and swimming human performers.  Unfortunately, the show is not captioned nor described.  Large panels are suspended from the ceiling throughout the production and would be an excellent place to display captions.  An audio description available through an IPOD feed would make this production accessible to those who are b/vi.  The addition of these accessibility features would make this a rich sensory experience.

Finally, we took a Behind the Scenes tour of the aquarium and it was an exhilarating experience.  Our tour guide, Jan, was beyond compare.  Before the tour, I explained  that my daughter had hearing loss and that I was hoping to experience all of the tactile elements of the tour as if I were without sight and he responded with a specialized tour for us.  The hallway to the Ocean Voyager area contains sized tactile representations of several of the animals on exhibit.  This would be a valuable experience for the guest who is blind.  We will not forget experiencing the football field sized pool containing a 25-foot-long whale shark from the top of the pool and the accompanying description of all of the marine life below.   Our tour guide was sure to face my daughter when talking to aid her speech reading and the small size of the group, four in total, allowed for one to one communication to take place.  This is another area where perhaps a speech-to-text translation program might be a workable solution.

Fish Outlines Help Teach Sizes and Shapes

Fish Outlines Help Teach Sizes and Shapes

Overall, the Georgia Aquarium has done a really good job of breaking down barriers to access for those with sensory exceptionalities.    There is room for improvement and I plan to share this information with the aquarium and offer my consumer suggestions for improved access.  We had a wonderful day at the aquarium and I can’t wait to go back and explore again.  If you visit the Atlanta area, be sure to put this on the top of your list of things to do.

VDRDC DLN First Annual Meeting – A really long name for a really cool meeting

Posted by Max on April 18, 2012 at 11:22 am. Captioning, Consumer Advisory Board

Ana Forest sent us a great  post about the VDRDC meeting.  Read on for some fascinating info!

Just got back from San Francisco, where we played a leading role in the Video Description Research and Development Center Description Leadership Network’s First Annual Meeting: It was a huge success and an amazingly interesting and useful conference.

We lucked out with great weather, and enjoyed the opportunity to re-connect with old friends, collaborators, and even some of our competition.  A diverse group of industry professionals and consumer organizations gathered to discuss technology, strategies, legislation, and many topics surrounding Video Description.   Our good friend Dr. Josh Miele, the VDRDC director, ran an informative and fun meeting.  He really knows how to bring the subject alive, and the work his center is doing is so important to Video Description and the blind community.  A fully packed agenda ensured that there was something for everyone.  And because CaptionMax is a pioneer and long-time leader in Video Description, as well as a consultant to Dr. Miele and his team, our presence and input was invaluable.

Josh and his team at VDRDC presented their own exciting research projects. We got sneak-peaks of some of the technology and ideas they are working on.  Their crowd-sourced description platform called Descriptive Video Exchange (DVX)  is a cloud-based description repository for authoring and distribution of video annotations.  That is a fancy way to say, DVX can allow anyone to describe any program from anywhere.   Josh and his colleague, Owen Edwards, unveiled their mobile  (smart phone) description project: Choreographed and Orchestrated Video Annotation (COVA).  They are using second-screen technologies to expand description options in the classroom, living room, theater, and work place.  Ender Tekin presented his work in Automated Algorithmic Description (AAD) which uses computer vision techniques to extract visual information for descriptive purposes. The projects they are developing at the center are fascinating, and could bring description to another level.

The agenda was packed with presentations from experts about the benefits of video description as a tool for education, as well as for children with autism, learning disabilities or deaf-blindness.  Along with some of the technical and useful aspects of Video Description, the group discussed social networking, outreach, the new legislation, as well as using Description in museums, theater performances, and anywhere else that a visually impaired person might need it.  Of course this led to an animated conversation about changing the name from Video Description to something else, since it is not just about video.  Should we call it ‘Audio Description’, ‘Media Description’, or maybe even just ‘Description’?  The ideas flew in an energetic and charged discussion, but at the end of this First Annual Meeting, many of us agreed to disagree, and we left it at ‘Video Description’.

Video Description has been around for many years, with CaptionMax being a pioneer and important stakeholder in the industry.   But change is good, and change is here.  It seems that now we are on the precipice of a new era for Video Description.  With CaptionMax firmly in place as a Description Leader, the DLN is a group of individuals and organizations working on the improvements, developments and collaborative efforts necessary to make all media accessible to all people.

As many of our clients and consumers already know, CaptionMax is always on the cutting edge of new technology.   Along with Closed Captioning, our Video Description service is making media easier to understand and more accessible to more people.  Our commitment continues with the VDRDC, as DLN members, consultants, and in this case meeting organizers, too.  We are proud to say that the conference ran without a hitch and a was a big success due to the efforts of our own Director of Business Partnerships, Ana Forest.  Ana was on loan for a few weeks to help plan and execute logistics for this meeting of over 40 attendees from all over North America.  Thanks, Ana!  Great meeting, and good to finally have you back!  With CaptionMax contributing to the behind the scenes planning, Josh really pulled off an incredible agenda with interesting speakers, intriguing topics, and animated breakout sessions.

We’d also like to give a very special thanks to Jo Ann McCann and OSEP- Department of Education, along with John Brabyn and The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, for making this project possible.

If you haven’t already, you should check out Josh’s website:  You can read more about his Video Description Research and Development Center, and his work at Smith-Kettlewell’s Eye Research Institute.  The site describes their projects, and the research they are doing at the center.  You can also read some of Josh’s blog posts here on our very own CaptionMax website.



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