Sponsoring Captioning at JSConf 2015


Last year, shortly after returning from JSConf 2014, where npm had sponsored the coffee, I pinged Chris Williams on IRC:

19:07 -!- voodootikigod is away: Auto-away
19:07 isaacs: First of all, jsconf was amazing and awesome, as always
19:07 isaacs: I hope that you're taking some time to decompress :)
19:07 isaacs: Check this out:
19:08 isaacs: If you look into this for next JSConf, npm will sponsor it.
19:10 isaacs: we'll probably sponsor anyway, of course :)  but i mean, having CARTs
              in the talks is something that I'd personally want to try to help make
              happen, so if there's anythign I can do to help with that specifically,
              i'd love to chat about it
19:10 isaacs: no rush, no reply necessary.  just keep in mind for next year :)
              thanks again for helping us be a part of it.

Auditory accessibility is an important issue for me personally. My partner has a severe hearing loss, and at the risk of sounding like someone who discovered feminism when they had daughters, things do change when an issue affects someone close to you.

In the last 6 and a half years, I’ve become very aware of a lot of little things that had been invisible to me before. Restaurants that are dark, or seating arrangements that make one person back-lit, or where a flickering candle makes it impossible to see a speaker’s lips. I’ve even learned a bit of ASL, enough to have a halfway decent conversation when talking is impossible.

Hotels put handles in their bathtubs because people with various physical disabilities need them[1]. In many places, these accessibility accommodations are required by law.

Needed or not, almost everyone who takes a bath in a hotel will use these handles to get out of the tub. Accessibility accommodations may only be required by a small number of people, but in most cases, they improve the experience for the majority as well.

When I watch tv or movies, and captions aren’t present (for example, in most movie theaters and many online services), I really feel like something is missing. My hearing is a bit better than average, but I occasionally tune out for a second or get distracted, and the text makes up the difference. The words at the bottom of the screen are like the cognitive equivalent of the bathtub handles. Some people absolutely need them, but everyone uses them when they’re there.

At AlterConf in Oakland, Mirabai Knight provided captioning services in real time over a web connection, and it was truly awesome. If you get the chance to go to an AlterConf, I highly recommend it. There was also ASL interpretation and basically every sort of accessibility accommodation possible.

That was the first time I’d ever experienced the ease of subtitles along with a live talk. It was so much easier to pay attention and follow the speakers’ ideas. I can only imagine the difference between struggling to catch every other word and speech-read across the room and behind a microphone, vs being able to just read the words that the person actually said.

When Chris Williams reached out to me again in March 2015, I pointed him towards Ashe Dryden, who made the referral to Mirabai Knight. npm, Inc. footed the bill. Chris told me that they probably wouldn’t be able to have a separate screen for captions, but they’d be able to make a nifty little webpage that would live-stream captions to peoples’ laptops and phones.

Since the presentation rooms are pretty large at JSConf, this made the captions a lot more visible for more people, and also meant that the captions could be streamed outside the presentation room. You can check it out in your browser, if you manage to read this before the conference is over:

There were quite a few unexpected benefits as well:

And of course this happened right away:

I hope that this becomes a regular fixture at tech conferences around the world, along with other ways to make our community spaces open to more people. Accessibility broadens our communities, and it makes things better and more inviting for everyone.

1: I didn’t make up the analogy about bathtub handles being good for everyone, including those that don’t strictly need them. But, I can’t find the original source. Everything I can think of googling leads me to a thousand sites selling bathtub hardware. If you know the source, please help! return

Via: The npm Blog