When a deaf or hard of hearing person attends an event, what is the best communication access service for them? Should they be provided with ASL/CS/oral interpreters or CART writers or ALD? Not all of them have same needs, and even one particular service is not fit for all situations. It is advised to ask a deaf/hoh person first about their preferences for communication access and vendors (if they know of any) before figuring out and arranging the services.

Following are links to blog posts written by others regarding CART and ASL services:

As a deaf person, I usually ask an event organizer for more details to determine if it’s mostly lecture-based or if it is mostly discussions or if it is both. Since I was raised oral using spoken languages (Russian and English), reading real time captioning is more natural for me than using sign language interpreters when just listening to presentations with little or no involvement in any discussions or social parts of the event. I have limited listening abilities to benefit from ALDs (more about it explained later) and also have limited lipreading abilities to be able to participate in conversations (especially group conversations or with someone who is hard to lipread) without a sign language interpreter.

It depends on a type of an event where a deaf or hard of hearing person would need live captioning or interpreting services or both or some other type of communication access services.

If you want to learn more about how to make your events accessible, check out the book (it has a full chapter with more information on this) and contact us for detailed consulting and training (no event is same and accessible services need to be customized for each event).

Here are some reasons why people like myself prefer using real time captioning by CART writers for listening to presentations:

  • Real time captioning is more verbatim than sign language interpretation. Sign language is not an exact representation of a spoken language and is a language of its own based on visual concepts. The difference between both services is like the difference between reading a book (that has more original details) and watching a movie based on a book (that has more visuals interpreted by a producer).
  • Good lighting is crucial for deaf attendees, and I have less problems with it when using captioning than when using interpreters, especially when a room or a part of the room is too dim to be able to watch an interpreter comfortably. Dim lights make my eyes get tired, especially when listening to long presentations.
  • Real time captioning also allows me to take more frequent eye breaks by closing them or looking away to take notes (just like hearing people do) without missing what’s said as I can look back and catch up with reading captioning (usually it’s shown in a dozen lines on a screen). I do not have this opportunity with sign language interpreters as I have to watch them all time not to miss anything they say, and it’s hard to take notes with only one set of eyes.
  • Using sign language interpreters is especially difficult for events with a lot of special words that don’t have signs for (medical, technical, legal, etc.). And there are many signs that may mean many different things which can be difficult even for experienced interpreters. Most times interpreters would have to fingerspell special words or discuss with a deaf attendee in advance certain signs for certain words.

It is important that real time captioning is provided by qualified CART writers. It is not something that anyone can volunteer to type using a laptop. To better understand how CART services work, read the Making Live Events Accessible page.

There are times when I prefer using sign language interpreters than CART writers – usually for social events and interactive discussions:

  • When participating in group conversations or highly interactive discussions, not everyone would be able to understand what I say (I have a Russian accent and deaf voice), so it is easier for me (and others like myself) to use an interpreter to voice out my signs. When there’s a lot of exchange in discussions, there is less delay in signing than in typing because signing is not verbatim.
  • When I attend an event that includes both presentation and social parts, I would choose interpreters over CART services. Ideally it would be nice to have a CART writer for listening to a presentation and interpreters for social parts, but only a few organizations are willing to pay for both services.
  • When I attend an event that has concurrent workshops, it is easier to use interpreters if I want to switch between workshops because it takes a while for CART writers to move around with the equipment – unless CART services can be provided for all workshops which only a few organizations are willing to pay for.
  • There are events that take place outside (like walking tours) or in locations that have no outlets or good logistics for using captioning equipment, for which using sign language interpreters is easier and more natural.
  • There is a scarcity of CART writers compared to sign language interpreters around the country, and depending on where an event takes place, there may be cases when only sign language interpreting services are available.

This is not to say that CART services are “superior” to sign language interpreting services – it all depends on a situation and a deaf attendee’s preference. I explain the reasons above to help people better understand why those like myself may prefer certain services for certain situations.

Regardless of what services are provided, it is important that it is a well trained professional following a strict code of ethnics (i.e. an interpreter or a CART writer can only relay information, but not impose their ideas or make decisions for their deaf clients).

There are also times when I ask for captioning or interpreting services, I’m being suggested ALD (Assistive Listening Device). As someone with profound hearing loss, I have no benefits from that device. Also, many people who use ASL do not benefit from ALD. It may be beneficial for some deaf/hoh people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants and can understand speech by hearing, but not all of them, and even those who use ALDs would also need CART services.

If you are interested in attracting a diverse audience, it would be good to provide CART services during your event. There are many deaf and hard of hearing people who don’t know sign language and often feel embarrassed about their hearing loss (especially those who are late deafened), so they would appreciate it when they can see an event captioned without asking an organizer for it in advance. Other audience members would benefit from it such as foreign language speakers and others who may have a hard time understanding certain accents.

It is also advised to announce that your event is captioned and to add a question to ask if any additional services are needed (in case a deaf person may need a sign language interpreter for a social part or an ALD to help them hear better).

When your event is over, you can use a rough transcript provided by a CART writer to have it cleaned up and added to a podcast or converted into captions in a video if you plan to show them online to make it accessible to more website visitors.