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November 13, 2008

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Users Vote "Yes" on New Radio Technology During Live Captioned Broadcast of Presidential Election

While millions of U.S. citizens voted in national and local elections last week, some of the nation's deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens were casting important votes on the future of captioned radio broadcasts-- new technology designed to enable them to experience live radio coverage for the first time. The results-- more than three-quarters of people who are deaf and hard of hearing indicated that they would be interested in purchasing captioned radio displays after watching live demonstrations of the technology last week at seven locations around the United States. The election night broadcast demonstrations were made possible by WGBH's Media Access Group, NPR, Harris Corporation and Towson University. The telecast leveraged cutting-edge digital HD Radio™ technology to enable people who are deaf to experience NPR's election coverage by viewing live radio content on specially equipped receivers. WGBH's "stenocaptioners" monitored NPR's live coverage and fed instantaneous speech-to-text transcriptions to the participating NPR stations and to NPR's Web site.

The broadcast, part of an initiative to make radio more accessible to the millions of consumers with sensory disabilities around the world, was demonstrated at NPR's international headquarters and Towson University in Towson, Maryland, WGBH, and four additional NPR member stations around the United States. During the broadcast, 150 people who are deaf or hard of hearing filled out surveys in person or online to provide feedback on the technology.

"WGBH was thrilled to welcome members of the deaf and hard of hearing community to experience live captioned radio of NPR's election night coverage," said Larry Goldberg, director of Media Access at WGBH. "Our captioning staff and our colleagues at WGBH-FM made magic happen ... and the reaction for users was strong and clear... 'Finally!' and 'When will this be available all the time?' Very soon, we hope!"

Responses to surveys indicated that captioned radio will be a popular broadcast format for deaf and hard-of-hearing users.

  • 95 percent were happy with the level of captioning accuracy, a crucial aspect for readability and comprehension
  • 77 percent said they would be interested in purchasing a captioned radio display unit when it becomes available
  • 86 percent indicated they would be interested in purchasing a 'dual-view' screen display for a car (which would enable a deaf passenger to see the captioned radio text while the driver listens to the radio).
"Being able to read the captions enabled me to stay current on the election results. I usually tune out the radio when it's on because it is difficult to understand the dialogue with my hearing loss," said Betsy McCarthy, who participated in the demonstration at WGBH. "This technology would allow me instant access to a broadcast as opposed to taking the extra time to obtain a transcript when one is available."

Demonstration participants also showed a strong desire to rely upon captioned radio in emergency situations - on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being extremely important, they ranked emergency notifications at 9.6 when asked what types of information would be important to receive through captioned radio broadcasts. General news came in second at 8.0.

The survey also included a number of questions regarding format preferences, such as the speed of the scrolling text and the size of the text. The information will be used to improve future captioned broadcasts.

"WGBH did it again! The first to provide TV captioning in 1972 has once again become the first to caption the election results on HD Radio," said Karen Keefe, past president of Association of Late-Deafened Adults, Inc. and president of ALDA of Boston. "An amazing, innovative idea!"

The event was coordinated by the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), which is headquartered at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Founding members also include NPR and Harris Corporation. Towson houses the primary administrative and academic research office for the initiative, NPR Labs in Washington, DC, provides the technology R&D and software development, and Harris Corporation supplies the transmission and research support at its radio broadcast technology center in Cincinnati, Ohio. WGBH served as a technology partner in the initiative.

HD Radio enables station operators to split their broadcasts up into multiple channels, providing several CD-quality channels for their audiences. Through this accessible radio initiative, a small amount of the total data capacity will be used to carry textual data that will be shown live on a screen on new versions of HD Radio receivers, essentially providing a closed-caption transcript of live broadcasts for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition to NPR, Harris Corporation, and Towson University, ICART member organizations include iBiquity Digital Corporation, Delphi, NDS, Radiosophy, Helen Keller Institute, Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH (NCAM), Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Persons, and the G3ict, an Advocacy Initiative of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. NPR's Accessible Radio project is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research (NIDRR).

About NCAM

The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH is a research, development and advocacy entity that works to make existing and emerging technologies accessible to all audiences. NCAM is part of the Media Access Group at WGBH, which also includes The Caption Center (est. 1972), and Descriptive Video Service&reg (est. 1990).

About WGBH

WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcaster, producing such celebrated national PBS series as Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Curious George and more than a dozen other award-winning primetime, lifestyle and children's series. Boston's last remaining independent TV station, WGBH produces local TV productions (among them, Greater Boston, Basic Black and María Hinojosa: One-on-One) that focus on the region's diverse community, while WGBH 89.7 FM is Boston's NPR Arts & Culture station, offering a rich menu of classical, jazz, blues, news programming and more. WGBH is the leading producer of online content for one of the most-visited dot-org sites on the Internet-- a major producer for public radio and a pioneer in developing educational multimedia and new technologies that make media accessible for people with disabilities. For its efforts, WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors, including Oscars, Emmys, Peabodys and duPont-Columbia Journalism Awards.

About NPR

Since its launch in 1970, NPR has evolved into a leading multimedia company, award-winning primary news provider and dominant force in American life. NPR produces and/or distributes 1,500 hours of programming weekly, including more than 150 hours of news, information, talk, entertainment and cultural shows for the 800-plus NPR Member stations around the country, attracting 26.5 million listeners weekly. NPR also programs two 24/7 channels for Sirius satellite radio and five 24/7 music multicast channels for digital HD Radio, having served as an industry leader in HD research and development; additionally it produces nearly 90 podcasts, making it the biggest podcaster among American media companies. offers extensive original video and audio content, hourly newscasts, concerts and free audio streaming of current and archived NPR programs.

About Harris Corporation

Harris is an international communications and information technology company serving government and commercial markets in more than 150 countries. Headquartered in Melbourne, Florida, the company has annual revenue of $5.3 billion and 16,500 employees-including nearly 7,000 engineers and scientists. Harris is dedicated to developing best-in-class assured communications™ products, systems, and services.

About Towson University

Founded in 1866, Towson University is recognized among the nation's best regional public universities, offering more than 100 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, and applied professional fields. Located in suburban Towson, eight miles north of Baltimore, the university's beautifully landscaped, 328-acre setting offers a pleasant environment for study and a diverse campus life, as well as easy access to a wealth of university and community resources. With more than 20,000 students, Towson University is the second-largest public university in Maryland. As a metropolitan university, Towson combines research-based learning with practical application. Its many interdisciplinary partnerships with public and private organizations throughout Maryland provide opportunities for research, internships and jobs. The university's radio station, WTMD, will soon convert to digital format and will serve as the initial testing ground for the initiative. Towson University is a founding member of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU); TU President Robert Caret holds the office of president.


Mary Watkins
Media Access Group at WGBH
617 300-3700 voice
617 300-2489 TTY