Inclusive Conversations With Real-Time Transcription: CART Live Captioning

Text Accessibility For Lectures, Meetings, Presentations & Events

What Is CART Captioning?

Let’s begin with a quick three-layer definition. The main category we’ll start with is transcription.

  1. Transcription is the process of converting spoken language into written text. So far, so good.
  2. Captioning is a specific kind of transcription that displays the written text on a screen or monitor in real-time, as the words are spoken.

    Most people are familiar with movie or TV captions, or closed captions, that appear on-screen, relaying dialogue and audible actions, and sometimes describing background music.

    Live captioning is not the same as TV closed captions, but it is similar in some ways.

    Like captions, captioning isn’t just transcribing the speaker’s words. It shares more audible information. Unlike movie and TV captions, captioning transcription generally happens live.
  3. CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) captioning is a service where a trained professional transcribes the speaker's words using a stenography machine or specialized software. In many cases, the captions are displayed instantly, so viewers see a text version of what is being said. This type of captioning may include brief descriptions of audience reactions, relevant background conversations, arguments, outside interjections, and sounds such as laughter.

CART captioning is not only used for court proceedings or for broadcasts, but those are two of their most well-known uses. For those in the United States, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), the National Association for Court Reporters and Captioners (NCRA), the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) and other court reporting associations, some localized by US state, are organizations that can:

  • Teach people to become CART captionists
  • Help organizations find qualified captionists, and
  • Provide more information about how manual live transcription such as CART captioning can be used to provide accessibility for people with various disabilities in accordance with several disability rights laws and regulations, including the US Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Why Is CART Captioning An Important Accessibility Option?

CART captioning or other forms of live manual transcription in real-time can be game changers in terms of providing equitable access and inclusion for people with disabilities in various settings, by delivering immediate, word-for-word text versions of spoken language. With this type of transcription, deaf and hard of hearing individuals can follow along with lectures, presentations, and meetings, offering equal opportunities in education, employment, and social interaction. It’s also useful for those who require visual support to understand or follow spoken content.

In classrooms and lecture halls, for instance, real-time CART captioning can offer a way for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to stay on track with the material alongside their classmates, keeping them engaged and updated alongside their peers. Similarly, in business meetings, captions guarantee everyone has the same information and can actively participate in discussions with a more complete and meaningful understanding of agenda items and matters at hand. CART captioning can also be a significant help for students who have a physical or cognitive disability that prevents them from taking notes during class, even if they are able to hear what is going on.

Accuracy and accessibility are key in captioning. Speakers and sounds must be clearly identified, and, captions should be easy to read, displayed quickly and accurately, and be easy to follow. They should also be positioned where they can be easily seen alongside the corresponding video, speaker, or action.

The National Association of the Deaf reports that over 36 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, and many more have limited English proficiency or are still learning the language. The Association has stated that live captions not only offer accessibility, they can improve fluency, comprehension, and literacy skills for both adults and children.

How Does CART Captioning Work?

CART captioning is performed by a highly skilled professional, a CART transcriber, who uses specialized software or a stenography machine. Stenography machines are keyboards with phonetic shortcuts that allow the transcriber to type phonetically at a very fast speed. These abbreviated words or phrases are then expanded into full text by the machine, or by embedded software.

Can’t Transcription Be Done Automatically?

In many situations, no, it cannot. Automated speech recognition (ASR) technology, also known as voice recognition software, is not currently reliable or accurate enough for real-time captioning, especially in complex situations with multiple speakers, background noise, or technical jargon. For legal, medical, or high-level technical discussions, ASR is not a good fit. Transcription (CART and other types) is also valuable in cases where speakers are using multiple languages, and can be the only viable solution for less common languages that are not recognized by the software.

Internet connectivity and security or privacy considerations should also be taken into account. ASR usually requires strong connectivity, which may not be available in all scenarios. And, neither individual privacy, nor corporate or government confidentiality can be fully guaranteed when using an automated service. Human transcribers can be vetted and cleared with background checks and signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), or can be selected through personal recommendations of discretion.

While CART transcription is traditionally performed by a human transcriber using stenographic skills, there are software programs used by these professionals to aid in the process. These programs can include features like stenotype to text conversion, dictionaries, and speaker identification.

Verbatim vs. Meaning-for-Meaning: Which One Is CART?

There are two main approaches to speech-to-text services, including CART captioning: verbatim and meaning-for-meaning (also known as edited).

The Difference Between Verbatim & Meaning-for-Meaning

  • Verbatim captioning captures every word spoken, including filler words (like uh and um), stumbles, and false starts. This is the approach used in CART captioning.
  • Meaning-for-meaning captioning focuses on conveying the core message. The transcriber condenses the transcript, omitting filler words and grammatical errors, while maintaining clarity and accuracy.

Meaning-for-meaning transcription or captioning may be edited after the fact, or it can be organized and edited on the fly, as the transcriber listens, using mental editing skills to organize information quickly as it’s typed. To understand this concept, compare it to someone taking notes in a business meeting. They may exclude or condense information and type up a bullet list rather than a paragraph, for example.

Here's an example to illustrate the difference:

Verbatim (CART Captioning)

“Good morning everyone, can everyone hear me okay in the back? Great… great. So today we're gonna be talking about, uh, the history of the internet. And, you know, the internet has become a really important part of our lives, and…”

This approach captures every detail of the speech, including repetitions, hesitations, and non-verbal cues, offering a complete textual representation of the audio.

Meaning-for-Meaning Captioning

“Good morning. Today's lecture will explore the history of the internet and its impact on our lives.”

This approach can be particularly beneficial in educational settings, where understanding the concept is more critical than memorizing the exact wording.

In short, verbatim transcription captures every single word spoken, exactly as it's said. It's essential for situations like legal hearings or technical talks where precise wording matters. The meaning-for-meaning method focuses on capturing the key ideas and messages, rather than every single word. It's a good choice for general information situations where understanding the overall concept is most important.

Manual Real-Time Captioning: Continuing Relevance

While automated speech-to-text (ASR) technology has made significant strides in recent years, manual real-time captioning by CART professionals remains essential for several key reasons:

  1. Precision Handling For Complex Terminology
    Automated systems can struggle with technical language, industry jargon, and proper names. These systems can misinterpret or inaccurately transcribe such terms due to limited context understanding or insufficient training data.

    Professional CART transcription services, on the other hand, employ transcribers who are not only trained to understand the context but can also prepare by familiarizing themselves with the specific terminology of the event or subject matter. This preparation enables them to provide highly accurate transcriptions, crucial for precise communication and understanding.
  2. Accuracy In Multi-Speaker Environments
    Automated systems typically face challenges in environments where multiple people speak simultaneously or when there's rapid conversational exchange. ASR technology can become easily confused by multiple speaker situations, especially when there is crosstalk or overlapping dialogue. They can confuse voices or miss portions of speech, leading to incomplete or jumbled transcriptions. Manual transcribers excel in such environments.

    A CART transcriber can identify and distinguish between different speakers, providing clear and accurate captions even in complex conversations. They can distinguish between speakers, accurately capture overlapping conversations, and provide clear, coherent transcripts that reflect the dynamics of group discussions. This capability is especially vital in conferences, panel discussions, and classroom settings where interactive dialogue is common.
  3. Capturing More Than Just Words
    CART captioning goes beyond just capturing spoken words. It can include relevant sound information that can add context, such as background comments, or important background noise. These elements are often crucial for understanding the context or emotional tone of the discussion. Automated systems may not reliably recognize or appropriately denote these sounds. Professional CART transcribers can note auditory cues and integrate them into the captions, providing a more complete and nuanced representation of the live event. And, if relevant information such as a presentation slide is mentioned audibly in the background, a CART captioner can incorporate that data into the captions for a more complete understanding. This aspect of manual captioning is particularly beneficial in scenarios where understanding the atmosphere or secondary auditory elements is key, such as in theatrical performances or complex business negotiations.

These factors highlight the importance of offering manual real-time live captioning services in many situations as a way to make sure all participants in a conversation, regardless of their hearing capabilities or the complexity of the discussion, receive accurate and comprehensive information.

CART: Expanding Accessibility in the Digital Age

Did you know that many transcription software options either aren’t built to offer transcription in real-time at all, or depend on high-speed internet at multiple points of connection to do so? For dependable real-time captioning, CART and other forms of manual transcription can be an excellent choice.

Web & Digital Accessibility With CART

  • Live Event Captioning In Real-Time
    Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) providers offer a valuable service that can work well for live events and performances, broadcasts, and webinars. CART captionists transcribe the spoken word in real-time, generating a text display that can be followed by live event in-person attendees, and by remote audiences for work meetings, broadcasts and webinars, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. In this way, they receive text versions of spoken content alongside the audio portion of the event. During the event, CART providers can adapt to varying speech patterns, accents, and specialized terminology, ensuring that the transcription faithfully reflects the spoken content.
  • CART Accessibility For Web Content & Digital Communication
    Although it would not be relevant for all content types or in all cases, for certain important online interactions, CART live captioning and real-time transcription services can be a tremendous help. For example, in a job interview or business meeting, CART captions can provide reliable accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, for non-native speakers or for multilingual conversations, or for people with cognitive disabilities that may affect their ability to process spoken words clearly and accurately.

Beyond Audio-To-Text Accessibility: The Positive Impact of CART

The impact of CART services goes well past the service it provides in offering accessibility to those with hearing loss and other disabilities; it has a broad and positive impact on audience reach and content comprehension. Real-time captions unlock content for a wider audience, including non-native speakers who might struggle with following along entirely by ear. This inclusivity can lead to a larger, more diverse audience for events and content, increasing engagement and understanding across different groups. And, captions aid in better comprehension of the material for all users by reinforcing auditory content with text, which can be especially helpful in complex or technical discussions. The presence of captions can improve retention and recall by providing a visual reinforcement of spoken words. This dual-input mode (audio and visual) facilitates a deeper understanding and boosts the overall learning and engagement experience. CART not only supports accessibility needs, it creates a more inclusive space, inviting a larger and more diverse group of participants to engage with audio-based events. Ultimately, by offering inclusivity and enriching comprehension for all, CART services don't just address accessibility needs – they elevate the communication experience for all everyone.


Is CART captioning live or pre-recorded?

CART captioning is live. A certified CART captionist listens to the spoken word in real-time and transcribes it into text, which is then displayed on a screen or other designated viewing area.

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