What are live captions?
Live captions convert audio dialogue and sounds into text that appears on a video in real time. They are commonly provided for events and meetings that are streamed over the internet or for in-person meetings.
Live captions provide an inclusive meeting experience for participants who may not otherwise be able to hear speakers and sounds at the event. They provide access and benefit other attendees such as those who might have distractions or non-native English speakers.
Auto-generated vs. professional captioning
Live captions can be automatically generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI), or they can be manually provided by a professional captioner. While auto-captioning tools continue to make significant progress in accuracy, they are not yet advanced enough to serve as a replacement for a professional live-captioning provider. This is because they are not accurate enough for an individual who may rely on captions as a communication method. As such, they may be used in meetings and events as a supplemental offering, but for accessibility, the best practice would be to hire a live captioning vendor to ensure effective communication.
Live-Captioning Vendor and Pricing
VITAC is Harvard’s preferred vendor for professional live captioning. Learn more about pricing and getting started with VITAC (HarvardKey required).
When should live captions be provided?
While we encourage live captioning for all events and meetings no matter the number of participants or size, there are three common scenarios where an event sponsor or meeting host might provide live captions:
When requested by an individual who plans to attend
As an inclusive practice to make an event more accessible
1. When required or encouraged by the University
University-wide events: These events must be live-captioned by a professional captioner to industry standards of accuracy.
Example: Commencement, ceremonies for special honorands, and presidential installations.
School-wide or other larger events: The University strongly urges that industry-standard live captioning be provided by a professional captioner for school-wide or other larger events that are advertised and expected to generate substantial audiences.
Examples: A former president speaking at the Kennedy School, A forum on Diversity and Inclusion in Science.
Events that are live streamed on a Harvard Website: Events of any size that are live-streamed on a third-party platform such as YouTube or Facebook and embedded within a University Website must be live-captioned by a professional captioner.
Example: If a Harvard research center live-streams a faculty lecture on Facebook, live captions are encouraged but not required. However, if the live-streamed lecture is embedded within the research center’s website, live captions would be required.
2. Requests for live captions from an individual who plans to attend
When sharing your event details, include a statement letting individuals know that they can request accommodations (such as live captioning) for the event. For example: “Persons with disabilities who wish to request accommodations or who have questions about access, please contact [event host’s email] in advance of the session.”
If a request for captions is received from a prospective attendee, then the event host should seek to provide live-captions via a professional captioner.
Example: Town Hall Meeting, Lunchtime lecture.
3. As an inclusive practice to make an event more accessible
Even when live captions are not required or requested, event hosts may choose to provide live captions as a way of being inclusive proactively and providing an enhanced meeting experience for all attendees.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams offer automatically generated live captions for every meeting, and meeting hosts are encouraged to turn them on as an inclusive practice. While auto-generated captions do not meet the accuracy requirements of Harvard’s guidelines, they have several benefits as a live transcription service for meeting attendees. Live captions can aid with note taking, and they provide a searchable transcript, which makes it easy to review content after the meeting.
What if I post the recording after the event?
Live captions, whether auto-generated by AI or provided by a professional captioner, do not meet the accuracy level required for post-production captioning. So if you provided live captions for an event, those captions would need to be updated and corrected to include things like punctuation, speaker names, and the identification of sounds other than speech. You may update the captions yourself or hire a vendor to provide accurate post-production captions.