Enhancing Accessibility in Government Communications: The Role of Captions and Transcripts

May 21 2024 VITAC
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Communication is critical within any municipality or government agency. Whether sharing information with residents and citizen groups or addressing internal staff, it’s important that everyone be part of the conversation.

VITAC, a global leader in accessible communications, provides top-quality captions and transcripts that help municipal and county governments and agencies of all sizes make their board and council sessions, press briefings, emergency updates, and training and informational videos, among other items, more inclusive for everyone.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that state and local governments make their programs, services, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that federal agencies make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, including adding captions to online video.

VITAC has a long, successful history working with local governments and federal agencies, and we offer a variety of solutions to meet ADA and Section 508 requirements. Our government captioning services cover everything from city council and school board meetings to state legislatures to federal agencies to archived videos to prerecorded informational materials. Many of our government clients also employ our audio description solutions to provide accessibility for those who are blind or with low-vision.

Below are just some of the reasons that government agencies employ captions and examples of how and when to use them.

Live streaming and webinars

Government meetings are often live streamed to audiences, allowing citizens to view from anywhere to stay abreast of happenings in the country and their communities.

Example: The US Senate’s rules dictate that most hearings must be open to the public. There are circumstances, such as when the discussion impacts national security, where the Senate can make the proceedings private, but those are the exception to the rule. The Senate posts live streaming links and dates on its site and maintains an archive of those hearings. Providing captions ensures viewers in the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) community and others are always able to watch with equity.

Training videos

Government employees often undergo training when they start new positions or as an ongoing part of their jobs. If an agency uses videos or streaming platforms for training, they need to offer captions for any employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Example: The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Information Policy offers live online training for any government employees or contractors who need to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. However, those sessions must offer accessibility for employees with disabilities. Captions ensure these employees can participate and engage with the training information they need. Additionally, captions increase engagement and allow employees the opportunity to complete training in silence.

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Maintaining archives

Government agencies archive recordings so that others can access the information later. Not only do the archived videos offer captions, but the data collected and shared also appears and is recorded in the form of transcripts. Importantly, transcripts must be accurate because they will become permanent records of government activities.

Example: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hosts webinars to discuss public health updates. If people cannot attend the live session, they can access the videos and transcripts to find the information they need.

Verbatim meeting minutes

Government agencies post meeting minutes and recordings so the public can access them.

Example: The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) posts minutes and verbatim transcripts of its meetings. The USNRC also supplies those transcripts in more accessible formats upon request, including braille or large print.

Instructional videos for the public

Government processes and paperwork submissions are rarely straightforward. When citizens need to interact with government agencies or submit information, the process often can be confusing. Consequently, instructional videos provide an explainer on the processes. With video being a preferred medium for clarifying information, captions are key for public consumers.

Example: The Internal Revenue Service has a YouTube channel that helps answer people’s questions about filing taxes and protecting their identities, among other topics. Laws require that those videos be accessible to people with disabilities. Captions offer access to people who are deaf and hard of hearing and allow others another way to digest the information or view the videos silently when situations warrant it.

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Engaging with the public

Many government agencies use video and social media to connect with the public and promote their work. The US government even published a social media toolkit to help agencies maintain a positive, accessible social media presence.

Example: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a highly active social media presence, including YouTube channels. They live stream exciting events and post videos that viewers can watch on-demand. NASA offers captions to ensure viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing can access its content.

Emergency broadcasts

In emergencies, live streaming an alert is a great way to quickly share information with the public. However, without captions, viewers in the DHOH community can be excluded and miss out on important notifications.

Example: The Emergency Alert System allows federal, state, and local governments to connect with the public in the case of weather warning, emergency situations, and other crises. The Federal Communications Commission mandates that broadcasts must be accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing by offering captions.

Work with the expert

Partnering with a professional closed captioning and transcription provider like VITAC enables local and city governments and government agencies the ability to accommodate people with disabilities and adhere to accessibility laws.

Contact us to learn more about how our professional transcribers support the specific transcription needs of federal and state agencies across the country.