Interview with Ai-Media – Experts in Captioning & Transcription Solutions

Published: May 4th, 2016

Ai Media logo and captioning example on tablet deviceAlthough it’s not easy being deaf or hard of hearing, in today’s world where technology is booming and digital communication channels are popping up left, right and centre, it is getting easier. In fact, there are organisations dedicated to researching and developing innovative assistive technology devices to transform the lives of those who struggle to communicate due to a disability.

Ai-Media is one such company – providing state-of-the-art live and offline video captioning solutions and transcription services to deaf and hard of hearing individuals worldwide. We interview Ai-Media UK’s Executive Director Eileen Hopkins to find out a bit more about the company, their innovative technology solutions and how they’re working towards changing the landscape for deaf and hard of hearing students in education.

Hi Eileen, can you please start by telling us a bit more about Ai-Media? How did the company come about, and how is it helping to change the lives of those who have disabilities, particularly a hearing loss?

Tony and Alex CEOs Ai MediaAi-Media was founded in Australia in 2003 as a captioning company dedicated to ending the experience of social, educational and vocational exclusion, particularly for the deaf. One of our founders, Alex Jones, is profoundly deaf, and founded the company in partnership with our Global CEO, Tony Abrahams, to provide captions for broadcast TV.

Since 2003 we have expanded our services and reach into schools, colleges, universities and the workplace, both in Australia and the UK, and now also in the USA. Our aim is ‘global impact, one word at a time’. By accessing the spoken word as text on a tablet, phone or laptop, people with hearing loss don’t need an interpreter or note taker.

Our company in the UK is Ai-Media UK.

In what situations can the captioning, transcription and audio description services be most beneficial to people who are deaf or having a hearing loss? 

Our vision is to have most visual content closed-captioned. This includes video, film, TV, YouTube clips, etc. A deaf person or a person with hearing loss would then be able to access all content on an equal basis and not be frustrated by un-captioned programmes.

In the workplace, while many people who are deaf or have another issue, such as an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), manage on a day to day basis, some situations such as meetings can be particularly challenging. Having the support of live captions enables these individuals to see the speech of other attendees and participate in a way previously denied to them. Additionally, providing access to captioned training videos enables businesses to deliver equal-access training that accommodates the needs of people who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

How is Ai-Media making an impact in the education sector? What is being done to ensure more schools, colleges and universities have the right technology to make learning and teaching easier for people with disabilities?

Ai Media team testing captioning solutionsDeaf students are 2.5 times less likely to finish school/sixth form where they have to rely on note takers, sign language interpreters and lip reading in order to access classroom content. Live captioning ensures that deaf students have direct access to the English language in real time.

Our technology, which users ‘respeakers’, presents new solutions at an affordable price, particularly in higher education, where the service can be funded through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). Now individual deaf students can access the lecturer’s voice on a laptop and receive a transcript of the lecture as soon as it finishes.

Our Simple Text service has also been developed to offer a solution to the challenges faced by students with an ASD by removing metaphor, figurative language and breaking down instructions into single steps. 

Lecture Capture, now being delivered in more universities for all students, can provide deaf students, alongside their hearing peers, access to the spoken word through captioned content and content transcripts. This removes the stigma that deaf students may face by having a BSL interpreter or note taker.

There’s also our Visible Classroom product, which was developed in partnership with the University of Melbourne Graduate school of Education (UMGSE). Based on the philosophy of Visible Learning, developed by Professor John Hattie, Visible Classroom is a teacher development tool that enables teachers to evaluate their impact in their classroom and adjust their teaching methodology in response to feedback from UMGSE.

What types of assistive technology solutions can be used in classes and lectures to help deaf students? How these work and what they involve?

Deaf students in the classroom can utilise live captioning (at university and in schools) and closed captioning (for university lecture capture).

A diagram of Ai Media Live Captioning used in lectureAi-Live captioning can be used quite easily. All a student would need to do is organise (with the help of their educational institution) a method of sending us audio for the class, for example via a phone call, Skype or live web stream. Our captioners then use this audio to produce live captions, which are streamed back to the student via any web-enabled device, be it laptop, tablet, or smartphone (see image). 

In universities, there is a growing trend of recording lectures for students to watch online at a later date. Most lecture capture platforms allow closed captions to be uploaded alongside the lecture. Closed captioning lecture recordings allow deaf students, as well as students who may have English as an additional language, to go back and revise lectures with adequate access.

How have these devices made an impact? What do people tell you about their experience with assistive communication technologies?

We constantly hear from individuals that they like not being identified as ‘different’ by having a note taker or signer by their side. They welcome and value the access to the full content of what’s being said offered by captioning, and lots of people say that the support is both easy to access and simple to use. Many have also enjoyed being able to communicate with their captioner during sessions.

One student with profound hearing loss has really benefited from our products:

A deaf student using live captioning on her laptop“I’ve used Ai-Live since the beginning of my course. I tried to cope for the first few days with just a manual note taker (my radio aid and other equipment hadn’t yet arrived) and it was just too difficult.  I was exhausted and heard very little of what my tutors were saying in class.

“When I spoke to my disability advisor at the university about this, she arranged for me to have Ai-Live captioning. Due to the level of my hearing loss, I’ve always used subtitles with TV and DVDs, and this takes much less effort for me than listening (even with loop systems), so it was a huge relief to get captioning for classes. It has been so helpful, both in lectures and in group work, and I don’t feel quite as exhausted at the end of the day as I used to.”

Can deaf students make a request for the technology at their chosen university? How does this work? What do they, or universities, need to do to get Ai-Media’s services?

Potential students can apply for DSA before their course starts or once they are at university. Increasingly we’re hearing that students are choosing universities with a good record of supporting disabled students. Once funding is in place, we can provide the service to the individual by a direct request from the student themselves or on the recommendation of the assessor.

In the wider context of the move to universities providing access to all students through Lecture Capture, the university makes direct contact with Ai-Media.

What tips do you have for people who are deaf or HoH who are struggling with communication difficulties in the workplace? How can Ai-Media services help them? 

Support can be accessed through captioning, which can be funded by Access to Work (AtW). They should approach their employer in the first instance, as sometimes the employer will fund the service directly. In other cases, the employee will apply though Access to Work. We are a registered supplier with Access to Work, and we’re always happy to contact potential users of the service to arrange a demo, or to discuss the process via email.

Is it possible to trial the Ai-Media services, either at home, in the workplace or in classrooms? How does this work?

A demo can be arranged through our sales and marketing team. As this is a remote service, the demo can be accessed anywhere there’s access to a web-enabled laptop, tablet or smartphone.

A representative of Ai-Media recently joined Deaf Unity at an information day for our Motivating & Inspiring Young Deaf Learners project. Can you tell us about the experience and how you have been working with us to raise awareness of the support available to deaf students?

School teacher holding tablet device with live captioningPart of our mission is to enable access to the widest possible group. This includes inspiring deaf students to continue their education beyond school and to make them aware that captioning can support them through university and beyond.

Working with Deaf Unity, an organisation with similar goals, was a fabulous opportunity for us. We look forward to working together to use other forms of communication to get the ‘motivating and inspiring’ message out.

What is the future of assistive technology for deaf students and employees? Will it only get better and better? Will one day every university, college, school and workplace have access to these important services?

The key goal is affordable access. As a company, we’re constantly investing in technology solutions to benefit an even wider group. We want to see people attain their full potential, not hindered by a lack of access to the spoken word or the cost of achieving that access.

The advent of Lecture Capture in universities, and the wider access this offers, means we are continuing to develop and refine our technology to deliver our service. Again, the key here is affordability.

Will it get better? With the ever evolving tech solutions, of course it will. But there has to be the will and the money to enable this to happen. Currently, if a university were to offer Lecture Capture in every faculty, the costs would be prohibitive, so initially they will have to be selective.

A photo of Eileen Hopkins, Director at Ai Media

Eileen Hopkins, Ai-Media UK

What is pleasing is a move within private and public sector employers to ensure that the best people are enabled to play a full and valued part in their businesses and workplaces, no matter what their challenges. Some are taking the initiative to fund services without using Access to Work, which both reflects foresight on their part and perhaps a little frustration with the perceived  bureaucracy of AtW.  

At Ai-Media, we are committed to our role in this through our 200 extroverts, introverts, left brains and right brains, who all work hard to make a difference in people’s lives.

Find out more about Ai-Media’s fantastic products.

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