University of Wisconsin–Madison

Live captioning and Sign Language Interpreting

5 minute to read | Last updated August 18, 2021

Learn how to add captions, sign language interpreting, and audio description to live events.

Disability-related accommodations

While students, faculty, and staff with or without disabilities can benefit from live captioning, common accommodations for people with disabilities include Sign Language Interpreters and live captioning. Having live captioning does not replace the need for a Sign Language Interpreter as they address different needs.

If a student, faculty, staff, or guest requests professional captioning and you need assistance, please contact the appropriate disability services office.

Student Accommodations

McBurney Disability Resource Office provides Sign Language Interpreting for academically-required student accommodation needs. If an instructor has a student in their course who is affiliated with the McBurney Disability Resource Center, the McBurney Center will send instructors a faculty notification letter. The McBurney Center will contact the instructor to discuss the accommodation process for the McBurney  Center providing sign language, live captioning (CART) services, or captioning pre-recorded media to the student. 

Communicating about accessibility features and the Accommodation Request Process. 

Let attendees know what accommodations are being provided at the event. For example:

  • Let attendees know if Sign Language Interpreters will be provided.
  • Let attendees know if Professional CART Captioning will be provided.

Include a tagline indicating how attendees can request accommodations beyond what is already being provided, such as “If you need accommodations to attend this event contact (name/email).”

Sign Language Interpreting

Sign Language Interpreters are professionals who provide English and American Sign Language interpretation services for Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing individuals. Professional Sign Language Interpreters are required to hold a state license to provide interpreting services in the state of Wisconsin. Additionally, many professional interpreters will also hold national certification and some may also have specialized certification to interpret in legal or mental health situations.

Sign Language Interpreting services can be provided in a variety of environments, from in-person meetings to virtual events. For some individuals, Sign Language Interpreting services can provide more comprehensive access to communication in ways that real-time captioning cannot fully convey (e.g. tone, affect, cultural nuances and context).   Accommodation requests should honor the participant’s preference for communication access.

Set up Sign Language Interpreting

You should include a Sign Language Interpreter for a live event if an accommodation request is made. 

  1. Setup Sign Language Interpreting through a vendor of your choosing or use one of the Sign Language vendor negotiated contracts offered by UW-Madison.
  2. Send web conference meeting information to your sign language interpreter. Ask if they need anything else.
  3. Add your Sign Language Interpreter to your meeting
  4. Spotlight,  pin, or lock focus on your Sign Language Interpreter in your meeting depending on your participants’ needs

Setting up live captioning using a professional captioner

For live captioning, we strongly recommend using a professional captioner. You can access Live Caption via CART Services through the McBurney Disability Resource Center or contract directly with an agency that provides live captioning. Please see the CART Services Contracts through UW-Madison for a list of contracted vendors.

How the process works:

  1. Set up Live Caption via CART Services or contract directly with a vendor from CART Services Contracts through UW-Madison
  2. Set up an account and billing with the vendor of your choice
  3. Reach out to your captioner to review any preparatory details, materials, and logistics for the event
  4. Use StreamText to display your captions outside of your live event platform to avoid unnecessary lags. Share the information about how to access captions with your participants. You can also add your captioner directly to your event.

Setting up Live Captions using Auto-Captioning

Auto-captions are sometimes referred to as machine-generated, automated, or AI-generated captions. Auto-captions are an enhanced feature for web conference attendees with and without disabilities, but attendees may still request professional captioning or sign language interpreting to make your event or meeting accessible. Auto-captions should not be promoted as an alternative to accommodations.

This guide will explore how to set up live auto-captioning and record captions in WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.  Guidance on how to select a web conferencing platform

Save and Edit Auto-captions

If you record your event, you may be able to download and edit captions or transcripts. For information about how to upload and edit your saved captions, see Post-Production Captions And Transcripts For Pre-Recorded Events.

Google Meet

Google Meet does not allow the user to save captions from the meeting.

More information about Google Meet accessibility

Foreign Language Considerations

If your content or speakers are speaking a language other than English, make sure you have live captioning services available to meet their needs. For example, foreign languages commonly are not translated by auto-captions causing an accessibility barrier. Verify language needs with your participants and provide a Professional Captioner who can translate in the languages needed.

Audio descriptions for live events

If a live event has important visual content  (such as slides for a presentation, or visual action happening in a film) there needs to be an audio description of the visual experience.  

  • Have event speakers describe out loud any visual content they present, such as images or slides
  • Include descriptions of visual content in any pre-written narration

For more guidance on how to include audio descriptions in live events, see Tips for Doing Description Yourself or the Description Tip Sheet

Get help with accessibility

Resources to get assistance with accessibility at UW-Madison.

Get help with accessibility