Last week I returned home from UIKonf, a conference I spoke at in Berlin, Germany. UIKonf is the first conference I've attended that provided live captioning for physically present attendees. In this context, live captioning meant that a large TV screen was on the side of the stage, with a scrolling real-time transcription of each talk. I knew before I arrived at UIKonf that there would be live captioning. In fact, my non-profit Sound Off, raised over $3k in April to pay for it, contracting with White Coat Captioning to perform the transcription. That said, as an able-bodied person who never attended a conference with live captioning before, I didn't think I would notice a difference. Boy, was I naive.
At first, I enjoyed watching the captions scroll, or checking to see whether the words matched what the speaker said. Within hours, the live caption screen became an invaluable tool that I'd glance at several times during a talk. If there was a word I couldn't hear or a speaker had an accent I was having trouble understanding, I didn't have to resign myself to waiting for the video. No, I could simply glance at the screen and pick up the missing words. Similarly, if my attention drifted to the many items on my to-do list or I just had to check my phone and I stopped actively listening, the transcription always helped me get back into the context and flow of the talk.
Much to my delight, many attendees also noticed how awesome the live caption screen was, and felt that live captions were a helpful addition. I sincerely hope every conference I attend in the future has live captioning. It enriches the experience for in-person attendees, regardless of physical ability. In fact, when I'm invited to speak moving forward, I'll be asking organizers if they plan to provide live captioning.