Zoom Pledges Provide Closed Captioning For All Free Users — A Win For Hearing Health Advocates

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In this photo illustration, a Zoom logo is seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In this photo illustration, a Zoom logo is seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Zoom is pledging to give all users free caption services after advocates pushed for the platform to make closed captions more accessible during the pandemic.

Back in November, hearing health advocate Shari Eberts joined Here & Now to discuss an open letter she wrote in April that turned into a petition, garnering 58,000 signatures from others with hearing loss. While the result of that effort led to Google and Microsoft removing their captions from behind its paywall, Zoom was slow to do the same.

“It has been a very challenging time for everybody, but definitely for people with hearing loss during the pandemic,” she said.

Now, in an attempt to assuage those difficulties, Zoom has announced it will make closed captioning free for all its users this fall, a win for advocates like Eberts.

“I think that Zoom was feeling very overwhelmed by the pandemic,” Eberts says, mentioning that droves of people went to use the platform. “I guess they were not ready for that in terms of the technology.”

The petition and media coverage helped bring attention to Zoom management about the issue, she says.

“It just shows the power of grassroots advocacy,” she says. “It’s just such a powerful feeling for people with hearing loss to have their voice finally be heard.”

In November, Eberts stressed the importance of inclusivity, making video conferencing accessible to all and the difficulties that she experienced when trying to participate on Zoom.

“So you dial in early and you try and set yourself up so you're in speaker mode so that you have the largest possible picture of whoever is going to be speaking,” she said. “But, you know, sometimes I'll connect with headphones to really try and improve the audio. But it's a very difficult situation.”

Other issues included the audio cutting in and out or not matching with the lip movements and sounds. Ebert mentioned that it was hard to contribute to conversations for fear of looking silly or repeating something that had already been said.

While Zoom’s latest move is a success, the platform doesn’t plan to roll out this feature until later this fall, a time when the pandemic circumstances might be changed and video conferencing might not be as needed. But Eberts says there’s still a way for those who need it most to access the feature.

“We asked Zoom’s management to create an interim process,” she says. “And they agreed to do that.”

For those with hearing loss and other people who need the captioning for accessibility reasons, Zoom has created a Google form where they can submit requests, Eberts says. Applicants will be able to receive the closed captions immediately.

Full Transcript Of This Conversation:

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RayJeannette Jones adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 26, 2021.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.


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Jeannette Muhammad Freelance Associate Producer, Here & Now
Jeannette Muhammad was a freelance assistant producer for Here & Now.



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