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Google provides service to people with disabilities

Nov 23, 2009


Automatic captions in YouTube

11/19/2009 08:30:00 AM
Since we first announced captions in Google Video and YouTube, we've introduced multiple caption tracks, improved search functionality and even automatic translation. Each of these features has had great personal significance to me, not only because I helped to design them, but also because I'm deaf. Today, I'm in Washington, D.C. to announce what I consider the most important and exciting milestone yet: machine-generated automatic captions.

Since the original launch of captions in our products, we’ve been happy to see growth in the number of captioned videos on our services, which now number in the hundreds of thousands. This suggests that more and more people are becoming aware of how useful captions can be. As we’ve explained in the past, captions not only help the deaf and hearing impaired, but with machine translation, they also enable people around the world to access video content in any of 51 languages. Captions can also improve search and even enable users to jump to the exact parts of the videos they're looking for.

However, like everything YouTube does, captions face a tremendous challenge of scale. Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded. How can we expect every video owner to spend the time and effort necessary to add captions to their videos? Even with all of the captioning support already available on YouTube, the majority of user-generated video content online is still inaccessible to people like me.

To help address this challenge, we've combined Google's automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. The captions will not always be perfect (check out the video below for an amusing example), but even when they're off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time.

In addition to automatic captions, we’re also launching automatic caption timing, or auto-timing, to make it significantly easier to create captions manually. With auto-timing, you no longer need to have special expertise to create your own captions in YouTube. All you need to do is create a simple text file with all the words in the video and we’ll use Google’s ASR technology to figure out when the words are spoken and create captions for your video. This should significantly lower the barriers for video owners who want to add captions, but who don’t have the time or resources to create professional caption tracks.

To learn more about how to use auto-caps and auto-timing, check out this short video and our help center article:

You should see both features available in English by the end of the week. For our initial launch, auto-caps are only visible on a handful of partner channels (list below*). Because auto-caps are not perfect, we want to make sure we get feedback from both viewers and video owners before we roll them out more broadly. Auto-timing, on the other hand, is rolling out globally for all English-language videos on YouTube. We hope to expand these features for other channels and languages in the future. Please send us your feedback to help make that happen.

Today I'm more hopeful than ever that we'll achieve our long-term goal of making videos universally accessible. Even with its flaws, I see the addition of automatic captioning as a huge step forward.

* Partners for the initial launch of auto-caps: UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke, UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic, Demand Media, UNSW and most Google & YouTube channels.


A new home for accessibility at Google

10/16/2009 03:23:00 PM
Information access is at the core of Google’s mission, which is why we work to make the world's content available to people with disabilities, such as blindness, visual impairment, color deficiency, deafness, hearing loss and limited dexterity. Building accessible products isn't only the right thing to do, it also opens up Google services to very significant populations of people. According to the United Nations, 650 million people live with a disability, which makes them the world's largest minority.

We regularly develop and release accessibility features and improvements. Sometimes these are snazzy new applications like the a new talking RSS reader for Android devices. Other times the changes aren't flashy, but they're still important, such as our recent incremental improvements to WAI-ARIA support in Google Chrome (adding support for ARIA roles and labels). We also work on more foundational research to improve customization and access for our users, such as AxsJax (an Open Source framework for injecting usability enhancements into Web 2.0 applications).

We've written frequently about accessibility on our various blogs and help forums, but this information has never been easily accessible (pun intended) in one central place. This week we've launched a handy new website for Accessibility at Google to pull all our existing resources together: Here you can follow the latest accessibility updates from our blogs, find resources from our help center, participate in a discussion group, or send us your feedback and feature requests. Around here, we often say, "launch early and iterate" — meaning, get something out the door, get feedback, and then improve it. In that tradition, our accessibility website is pretty simple, and we expect this site to be the first of many iterations. We're excited about the possibilities.

The thing we're most excited about is getting your feedback about Google products and services so we can make them better for the future. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Posted by Jonas Klink, Accessibility Product Manager