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Accessible lectures  »

Legislation requires captions to make lecture videos accessible. Few universities comply because of the cost.

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Accessible lectures

Boom in tools to make university lectures understandable


Universities are under pressure to provide accessible lectures and course materials, following changes to the way disabled students are supported.


Synote (Synchronised Annotation) is one of a number of new tools looking to fill the gap. It is web-based annotation software aimed at making resources easier to access, search and manage.


“Synote has been developed from over 20 years of speech recognition and captioning research in collaboration with some of the world’s leading companies,” says Professor Mike Wald of Southampton University, one of the developers of Synote.


“It uses automatic speech recognition to generate captions for lecture videos, with errors corrected by students using a collaborative editor.”


Corrections are compared for verification and scores given to reward and motivate students who know the subject better than captioning companies.


Legislation requires captions to make lecture videos accessible but few Universities currently comply because of the high cost of professional captioning.


To make things worse for Universities the UK Government has cut the Disabled Students Allowance resulting in Universities losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.


“MIT and Harvard universities have been sued for failing to provide captions for lectures,” says Professor Wald.


“The game changer (in the UK) is cuts in Disabled Students Allowance from September. In the past universities did not provide captions but paid (human) note takers which they are not able to do now, due to cuts.”


Synote’s interactive transcript allows viewers to search videos for any word or phrase and replay the video from that point onwards.


Screenshots with the corresponding transcript and notes can be printed out with QR codes to replay any part of the recording on any mobile device.


Synote is available to trial at a cost of £6 per hour.


A Danish company has also set itsits sights on helping UK universities become more accessible.


SensusAccess wants to persuade institutions to subscribe to its self-service, media conversion solution, which enables users to convert documents into alternate formats online.


Using SensusAccess, files of up to 64Mb, in a wide variety of formats, can be converted into MP3 and DAISY audio books; as well as EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi e-books; and digital Braille.


The service can also be used to convert inaccessible documents such as image-only PDF files, JPG pictures and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into these more accessible formats.


SensusAccess is a university version of Robobraille, an award winning e-mail and web-based service for the visually and reading impaired developed by the National Centre for Visually Impaired Children and Youth in Denmark.


Universities pay a flat fee for unlimited access by an unlimited number of users. The fees, which the company would not reveal to Ability, are in five categories and depend on the size of the institution.



“We are not trying this as a way to get rich fast.” said Lars Christensen, inventor of RoboBraille. “We want as many people as possible to have access to SensusAccess.


“We are adding features all the time, a lot in the area of maths. We are about to release a Braille math service in Unified English Code. We are also working on structured recognition and the need to provide navigation based on the structure of a document.”


The University of Kent is already a customer.  “We have incorporated SensusAccess on our web pages, which has enabled us to ensure that only users with Kent email domains are using it,” says Tom Sharp, the disability team manager at the University.


“The best thing about it is that it gives users self-sufficiency in creating accessible formats as they are not reliant on pre-installed university network software and therefore conversions can be undertaken from almost any device, anywhere.


“We can also get lots of really useful data in relation to the kinds of materials people are converting to help with planning and training.


“As this is cloud-based, operating system and device neutral it has been a brilliant solution for us as students who need it can access it from any of our sites, university machines and mobile devices.”









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