Coalition launches Web video captioning effort

BOSTON: Several leading providers of Web-based video have formed a coalition with Boston public television to make online videos accessible to people who have trouble hearing.

BOSTON: Several leading providers of Web-based video have formed a coalition with Boston public television to make online videos accessible to people who have trouble hearing.

AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo asked the public TV producer, WGBH, and its Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media to form the Internet Captioning Forum (ICF). The forum will address the technical issues of captioning for online video.

The group is working to garner support on a voluntary basis and is not seeking to implement regulation, said Mary Watkins, director of communications and outreach at WGBH.

"Everything is being captioned, but it doesn't seem to be migrating over to the Web," said Watkins. "The reason we've heard is that people are stumped; they're just not sure how to do it."

The effort will focus on ways providers can implement closed-caption technology online. Outreach will include industry and consumer media relations, direct tech-company communications, and demos at media conferences, said Jennifer Sagalyn, WGBH's director of business development and strategic partnerships.

The ICF is positioning the campaign to benefit not only those who are hard of hearing, but also those who need captions to convert text into other languages and those who view online videos in noisy environments, as well as to more easily search for videos.

"[The campaign is] more about overcoming the [technical] obstacles than it is about letting people know about the problem," Sagalyn said.

ICF is also offering free software that can be downloaded to create captions and audio descriptions for digital media and Flash video presentations.

The coalition will also work on a database of captions from broadcast television that can be accessed when content is taken online and will offer demos at consumer technology conferences.

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