Google and YouTube: Leading the Way for Internet Captioning

By Cheryl Heppner

November 2009

Editor: The good news is that Google intends to caption YouTube videos. The bad news is that they will be using speech recognition software to do it. Don’t get me wrong! I’m a big fan of speech recognition. But I have yet to be convinced that a speech recognition program can do a decent job of transliterating the speech of any random person. I’d love to be wrong on this!

Anyway, here’s Cheryl with her report on the meeting where this announcement was made. This is part one of three parts.


Today was my day to learn cool and exciting new stuff. I went with Debbie Jones, NVRC’s Technology Specialist to a special event by Google and YouTube at which they would be making an announcement. The invitation had hints it would be something important to do with accessibility. YouTube is all about video so immediately I wondered if they’d had a breakthrough with captioning. How could I stay away?

I arrived at the Google office on New York Avenue in DC and got a hug from Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, while I was fresh off the elevator, followed another just moments later from his wife Sigrid. The Google folks were easy to pick out. They had black tees with a fingerspelled Google, each letter in a different color.

In the meeting room I found Debbie and lots of fellow advocates – Nancy Bloch, Brenda Battat, David Nelson, Shane Feldman, Cindy King, Lise Hamlin, Bob Davila, Tom Wlodkowski, Rosaline Crawford, Jenifer Simpson and so many more.

Introduction by Jonas Klink

We all settled in our chairs to hear Jonas Klink, the Accessibility Product Manager at Google start things up by introducing Vint as a critical element for his unwavering support of an accessible Internet. Vint took the stage and spoke of Google’s goal to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible for everyone. He said that access was personally important to him as both he and Sigrid have hearing loss, and joked that Sigrid hears so well now with her two cochlear implants that he had to buy a bigger house so she could have bigger parties.

Background Information from Vint Cerf

YouTube has shown that there is an extraordinary desire by the world’s population to express itself through video. Over 20 hours of video are uploaded each minute to YouTube. It has become a powerful medium of personal expression and an equally powerful medium of political expression, giving an individual the ability to tell the rest of the world what is happening. But accessing You Tube has also posed a huge challenge for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Google has a history of coming up with new ideas and then putting out a product for beta testing to see what people will do with it. The company is constantly seeking all kinds of ways to help people find information, and making that information internationally available and usable.

Vint showed a chart with data about the languages most used by people on the Internet. In the top spot was English, followed by Chinese. But the chart also noted the number of people with disabilities, including the large number of people who are deaf, blind, have poor vision, and limited dexterity.

In trying to improve accessibility, Google Apps has been focusing on keyboard access. Google’s Android was released as open source to encourage developers to add functionality. Its Chrome browser is also an open platform.

“Google is fully prepared to pursue accessible features in all its products and services,” Vint said.

For more details on the presentations at the announcement, watch for Part 2!

For the official scoop from the Official Google Blog:

Here’s part two

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