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Sochi Olympics and Paralympics 2014 and Captioning

Time flew really fast after London Summer 2012 Olympics, and just recently Winter Olympics in Sochi were over with Paralympics happening there now. I discussed accessibility of London Olympics and Paralympics, and now I would like to discuss accessibility of the Sochi Games.

I would like to start with an article in Russian by I came across about accessibility issues with Sochi Olympics for deaf and hard of hearing people. I find it sad that IOC fell on deaf ears. The article says that hearing loops would be provided, but not everyone would benefit from hearing loops – even those who wear hearing devices would need captions. Majority of deaf and hard of hearing people don’t know sign language to benefit from interpreters. Real time open captioning at the stadium (where open and closing ceremonies took a place) and venues would have benefited more than just those who have little or no hearing – there are many foreign language speakers whose first language is not English. It would have especially benefited international events like Olympics. The article says that speeches during opening and closing games would be captioned in the stadium, but that’s not enough and it also doesn’t specify where and how speeches were captioned.

One positive thing about accessibility for deaf Russians to Olympics is that they were closed captioned on TV. Only recorded segments were captioned – i.e. it was not done in real time. As I learned, most information that is closed captioned for TV in Russia is recorded, not broadcasted in real time because they do not have trained stenographers. had an interview with the Center of Speech Technologies about providing real time captioning by voice writers. They decided to provide real time captioning in Russian for the first time this year online starting with Paralympics coverage on It is not available for view outside of Russia, so I cannot comment on how good captions are. While it is great to provide real time captioning, voice writers are not as reliable as stenographers – a good example is BBC that uses voice writers and makes many deaf Brits complain because of bad captions. I hope they would also consider stenographers to provide real time captioning.

Many Olympics and Paralympics websites are sadly not fully accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Online Sochi 2014 Olympics videos have only subtitles (i.e. translations between English and Russian), but not same language captions, and not all of videos are accessible. Sochi 2014 Paralympics videos have captions as news tickers. Not sure if they are verbatim or summarized, but they are too fast to read and not comfortable on eyes. Team USA has a website with streaming and recorded videos of Paralympics, and none of them are captioned. Neither are videos on the main Paralympics website.

Below is a photo of videos in 3 Sochi Paralympics 2014 website versions – Russian, English, French – with captions in a news ticker. For some reasons, videos in a French version are with English captions.

Videos in 3 versions of Sochi 2014 website - Russian, English, French

Below is another photo of 3 websites, first of, second of Team USA, third of Sochi 2014 Olympics with videos that don’t have captions.

Examples of 3 websites with videos that don't have captions

AS for Olympics coverage by NBC in USA, it was captioned all time by stenocaptioners not only on TV, but also online on any device (laptop, tablet, phone) – which was wonderful. Captions on TV were of a better quality than online captions. Online captions were not bad, but they had more typos than TV captions. Interestingly, only streaming videos were captioned, but many recorded videos are not accessible on NBC Olympics website.

Paralympics are finally covered on TV in USA for the first time this year. NBC and NBCSN provide 52 hours of coverage, including 27 hours of live coverage. It’s not enough, but still a big improvement from 2 years ago when London Paralympics were not broadcasted here on TV at all and online YouTube streaming videos were not accessible to deaf/hoh people. Also, most of Paralympics coverage in USA happens after midnight when everyone is sleeping and is not shown much in evenings. So I watch it on DVR that is accessible via captions since many Paralympics online videos are not accessible.

Below is a photo of accessible Olympics via real time captions on TV, computer, tablet, phone (accessible online coverage was on NBC Olympics website). I hope in future both Olympics and Paralympics would be fully accessible everywhere – on TV, online, and at venues.

Accessible Olympics via captions on TV, computer, tablet, phone.

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