UMass Boston Staff Members Recognized for Accessibility Innovations
July 16, 2012
Office of Communications
A team of 17 people—including 12 from the University of Massachusetts Boston—that helped a blind and deaf student participate in online courses has won an Innovators Award from Campus Technology Magazine.
Valerie Haven, academic technology coordinator for the Ross Center for Disability Services at UMass Boston, led the team, which was one of 10 winners from a pool of 354 nominees.
UMass Boston was honored in the teaching and learning category for two projects. In one, Haven and other UMass Boston staff members worked with the Colorado firm Caption First to translate online class conversations into Braille in real time. The group’s work allowed a blind and deaf business management student to fully participate in virtual class sessions.
The live-captioning system was so fast, the student could vocalize a response six seconds after the captions were rebroadcast to her Braille keyboard. The system was so successful that Caption First is now offering it as a service.
The second project was the result of a 2010 partnership between UMass Boston and WGBH-TV. That team developed a synchronous conferencing system allowing a deaf and sighted student to see live captioning of a videotaped counseling session being shown in class.
Haven said privacy concerns made the project particularly tricky. A professional caption writer had to listen by telephone to the video’s audio track, and then stream captions back to the classroom. An encoder/decoder system provided by WGBH streamed the captions onto a projection screen, where they appeared under the video.
“There were 15 people in the room when we tested it,” Haven said. “I was biting my nails.”
Fortunately, the test went well, and so did the class. There was no delay in the student’s understanding of the video because the feed was captioned in real time, and copyright concerns were avoided because the captioning was kept separate from the video.
Haven said after the first clinical video was live-captioned during class, the deaf student reported feeling fully included in a course meeting for the first time. Meanwhile, other students reported that the captions helped them understand the course content better.
Colleagues from Blackboard Collaborate, the university’s e-learning software partner, nominated Haven and the UMass Boston team for the award.
“We have a mission to provide a quality education to a diverse community. We were not out to prove anything. We were out to get something done. We are about universal design and inclusion,” Haven said.
The university team included staff members from the Ross Center, the Information Technology Services Division, the Video Production Center, University College’s Center for Innovation and Excellence in eLearning, and Customer Service.
Haven accepted the award in July at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, site of the CT2012 education technology conference.