3 Things You Need to Know About Captioning at Graduation Ceremonies

"Help! We've never offered captioning for our College Commencement before -- and we kind of want to, but we're nervous."

Does that statement describe you and your team? You’re not alone.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions along those lines lately, so I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post. And timely, since Commencement Season is nigh upon us. So let’s get started.

1. Who Does It Benefit? (EVERYONE!)

TL;DR: Skip to "How do we do it?"

Even in this age of striving towards the principles of universal design (you are, aren’t you?), old ideas die hard. Some people still believe that captioning is only for the deaf, that there aren’t many people who meet those criteria, and besides, maybe no one has even asked for it.


In every audience, you can count on approximately 20% having some degree of hearing loss [source: Hearing Loss Association of America]. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In every university or college commencement audience, you likely have grandparents, parents, and siblings for whom English is not a first language. Or people with auditory processing disorders. Or people who are sitting near other people who are talking too much. They benefit from captioning, too.

And people often don’t ask for it for myriad reasons. They don’t want to self-identify as needing it. They often don’t know it’s even a thing they can ask for. They didn’t know ahead of time that it would be needed or helpful.

I still remember the first time I captioned the Convocation Ceremony at the University of Vermont, many years ago. I didn’t even know that I was visible while I was working that event -- there were so many people and it was in a large, packed gym, and how could someone identify that person using a court reporter’s machine (if they even saw that) with the captions that appeared on a screen about 300 feet away? But after it was over, I packed up my things and started rolling my case of equipment to my car, and a family ran to catch up with me in the parking lot. 

“Are you the one who was doing the captioning?!”
“Ohmygod, thank you, thank you! My grandmother is from Brazil, and she would not have understood a word of it, but she was almost crying because she could read and understand all of what was going on!”

On the other hand, my nephew graduated from one of those “colleges on the hill” in New England, and unfortunately there was no captioning provided. My sister and my mom have perfect hearing. They were sitting near a tree to stay out of the hot sun. The tree’s leaves were rustling, and the people around them were having their own little party (talking too much!), and the catering crew was preparing the big after-commencement luncheon right behind them. They couldn’t hear the speeches at all. My sister said she kept on looking for captioning on the big screens, but kept on being disappointed that there was none. For her son’s big day, and for that super-expensive and important event, a simple addition like live captioning could have improved the experience for everyone.

2. How Do We Do It? What Does It Look Like?

There are various ways it can be done. The captioning itself can be done remotely or onsite. 

You should hire a reputable captioning company to do the captioning. Ask for recommendations from other universities and colleges that have used captioning for their events. Ask questions about speed, accuracy, experience, and professionalism. Commencement Day is the biggest day of the year for your institution, your graduates, and their families. Everything about your event is on grand display and reflects upon you. Excellent captioning will enhance your event and your reputation. Bad or even mediocre captioning will detract. Don’t skimp on it. 

The captioner(s) will work together with your production team.

Outdoor Captioning, One Large Ceremony

Here is a photo of an outdoor captioning screen at a Commencement ceremony at the University of Vermont. This requires a captioning encoder, tied in with your big AV vendor's equipment. More than likely, any large AV vendor has worked with captioning before, and they either own or know where to rent an encoder and what to do to make it work. 

Indoor Captioning, Multiple Ceremonies

Here is a picture of a simple setup using the encoder with the support of a separate videographer capturing the image of the speaker, just for the purposes of the captioning. This is another commencement ceremony (Medical  School!) in the Ira Allen Chapel at the University of Vermont. 

UVM is a great model of universal design in its large events. It employs live captioning at ALL of its commencement and commencement-related ceremonies -- all 18 or 20 of them over several days -- and has done so for several years now -- regardless of whether anyone asks for it. A team of three captioners from White Coat Captioning, working with a very able broadcast engineering team at the university, manages all of the quick venue-moving and setting-up and switching-out that is required to cover all the ceremonies.

At UVM and several other universities and colleges, we use an encoder. But nowadays with the new apps available, (e.g., StreamCast by StreamText, and others), you can achieve this same effect without the complication and expense of an encoder. You just need a laptop connected to a projector and hardwired internet. 

Both of these setups are very nice, because your audience members who need the captioning don't have to keep moving their heads and eyes back and forth between the captioning screen and the stage to see the speaker. 

Low-tech, But Effective!

 (This photo was taken at a rural graduate writing retreat in Vermont, but this could be a perfectly reasonable way to accomplish your goals, as well.)

(This photo was taken at a rural graduate writing retreat in Vermont, but this could be a perfectly reasonable way to accomplish your goals, as well.)

The completely low-tech way is to just have text on a TV screen. Like this: 

In all cases, I strongly encourage you to place the captioning screen high enough so it can be seen above everyone's heads and read by as many people as possible.  

You might also consider having multiple captioning screens in the venue. You may think the captioning is only being used by the one person who requested it, or people who are asked to sit in a special place, but I would ask you and your team to trust my vast experience on this: There will be a large percentage of your audience who will need captioning (without having asked for it) and will very much appreciate that it's there -- even people with great hearing -- because in large events like this, the acoustics are always challenging. And if it is not visible to everyone, you will very likely get complaints from people who say they couldn't see it from where they were sitting. 

Ask me how I know. 

3. Plan Ahead!

Commencement Season is a very busy time for captioners. Now is not too early to start planning ahead for Commencement 2018 and get your captioners booked and all the budgeting and planning that goes into making it come off without a hitch. That said, if you want to caption your 2017 Commencement, we might still be able to accommodate you. 

But do add quality live captioning to your event. You will be so glad you did. 

One Conference Attendee Speaks Out About the Importance of Captioning

“Seeing other conferences include this accessibility as a default made it an absolute ‘must’ for us” said Adam Brault, founder of software company &yet. 

Conference presenter and attendee Aimee Chou wrote a wonderful blog post, Deaf-Inclusive Tech Conferences: Accessibility Lessons From &yetConf. There she writes about how important captioning is for her as a deaf person, and also for the larger audience. It's a great reminder about how important accessibility is and the greater benefit to us all.

Read her blog post

Congratulations Graduates!

It’s Commencement Season, and we are all quite busy captioning commencement ceremonies around the country. 

And as many commencement speakers like to say, “Contrary to popular belief, commencement doesn’t mean the end of school -- it means the beginning of a new phase of life.” 

Here at White Coat Captioning, we are so very proud to present the following recent graduates, all of whom we have had the pleasure of serving. We are so sad to see them go, but equally proud to have played a part in the education of these fine new doctors and one future dentist! 

We wish you all the very, very best, Megan, Yasmeen, Josh, and Joe -- and we will miss you terribly! 

Add Value to Your Conference -- Have Us Caption It

 An action shot of Amanda at OpenVisConf 2016

An action shot of Amanda at OpenVisConf 2016

I want to express many thanks and SHOUT-TO-THE-RAFTERS admiration to my amazing and growing tech con specialist team for helping me to continue to raise the bar in conference captioning excellence. Special kudos and many thanks to Chase Frazier and Amanda Lundberg for their stellar work on these conferences! You are the best and you always make us look good! 

White Coat Captioning wins Industry Award!


The JCR Awards were created as a way to highlight the innovative and forward-thinking practices of NCRA members and to recognize how court reporters, captioners, and legal videographers are leading the profession.

White Coat Captioning was chosen as the best-in-class for service in a nonlegal setting. 

"White Coat Captioning has been expanding its business to captioning several technical conferences, including a last-minute conference where the company replaced a group that was providing “nonsensical captions.” “People were very unhappy with the captions,” wrote Mirabai
Knight, RDR, CRR, CRC.

Knight said that the company was able to completely turn around the comments. “As soon as we came on board, the entire social media reception to the captioning had completely changed. People started talking about how helpful the captions were and how impressed they were with the quality and accuracy of the captions, even saying that they wanted captioning at all their conferences in the future! It was a total reversal of the previous reception.”

Knight went on to explain that the company has been focused on the conference captioning work because it hopes to change the status quo, where the only way to get captioning was for a person who was deaf or hard of hearing to invoke their ADA rights. “One in seven people has hearing loss,” notes Knight, “so in an audience of 100 people, at least 14 will benefit from captioning.” White Coat Captioning seeks to make captioned conferences the new standard for conferences.

Read the full article

Captioning Improved User Experience at AlterConf

"The captions were displayed on screens at the front of the room. I expected to find it mildly distracting to have text changing on screens at the front of the room while I was trying to watch talks, and I was totally wrong. I found I got much more out of talks because I could look at the captions when I missed or misheard words. Also, I was sitting at the side of the room and mostly saw the speakers in profile, but I didn't zone out the way I often do at talks where I can't see the speaker's face because their words were being updated right in front of me." Read full post 

More Rave Reviews

Anna Rascouët-Paz@rascouet
@cbowns @gte @AlterConf4 and 1/2 years in the US after 6 years in
London, as a non-native speaker, I'm still ALL about

Christopher Bowns@cbowns
Closed captioning at conferences is for everyone. Missed something the
speaker said? There’s a screen up front with a live transcript on it!

Jacob Helwig@jhelwig
Appreciating the live captioning at @AlterConf. Makes it really easy
to catch up if I didn’t quite catch something a speaker said.


White Coat Captioning at AMPHL Conference 2015

by Mirabai Knight

White Coat Captioning was a sponsor for the 2015 Association of Medical Professionals With Hearing Loss conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I attended as our representative, and had a fantastic time. Approximately 100 medical professionals, students, interpreters, and captioners were there. I was able to steal away for a few of the conference sessions, and I have to say they all impressed the heck out of me.

My favorite session was "Horns, Claws, and Teeth! Oh, My!", presented by Kimi Ross, a fourth-year veterinary student at Washington State University. Kimi prefers a combination of captioning and interpreters for her classes, and we've had the honor of captioning for her over the past year.  I'm fascinated by all things veterinary (blame James Herriot), so I was looking forward to her session all weekend, and it turned out to be everything I was hoping for. She explained how to gauge the emotional state of several common animals with an emphasis on visual rather than auditory cues. Sure, a dog might growl to show that it's being aggressive, but did you know that "whale eye", where a dog averts their head while keeping their eye fixed on you, can be an indication of fear and anxiety? She went over similar indications for cats, horses, sheep, and cows. The whole presentation was just magnificent.

Earlier that morning I'd had the pleasure of attending the keynote by Dr. Gerard Buckley on the state of science and medical education at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester. Since we currently caption for two students at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, this was particularly interesting to me. I also attended a session on PEPNET's resources for captioners and interpreters, which was remarkably helpful.

At our booth we played “Stump the Stenographer” with passers-by. The rule was that anyone could drop a card with their email in our bowl for free, but if they wanted up to two additional chances to win our HP Stream 7 Windows Tablet, they had to come up with a medical word or phrase that I wasn't able to caption. I wasn't allowed to spell it out letter by letter, as I would usually do when a word isn't in my steno dictionary; it had to be predefined, and I had to be able to caption it correctly on the first try.

Some of the words that stumped me: Sertraline, fluoxetine, and polyketonuria, all of which I had in my dictionary but which I couldn't remember how to write in the heat of the moment. Also morgellons, which I could fingerspell but didn't have in my dictionary; lochia, which I had heard of but then forgotten; and Farxiga, which I had never even heard of before. And, of course, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcaniosis, which is one of those ringer words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and antidisestablishmentarianism that I really should have already had in my dictionary.

Some of the words people tried to stump me with but couldn't, because I already had them at my fingertips: Hyperbilirubinemia, hemochromatosis, lemniscus, Prader-Willi syndrome, omphalophlebitis, hyponatremia, glossopharyngeal, phenobarbital, methylphenidate, sagittal, mitochondria, prolapse, bicuspid, cytomegalovirus, pseudocholinesterase, gentamicin, lorazepam, metoprolol, and choledocholithiasis!

The winning entry was habenula perforata, by renowned deaf audiologist Dr. Samuel R. Atcherson, PhD! I shipped the HP Stream 7 out to him after the conference. Looks like I should read up on my otolaryngological anatomy! Fortunately, before captioning each class we review all the terminology in the professor's PowerPoint slides and add anything that doesn't appear in our dictionaries, so my stump rate is much lower in real-world situations than it was in the game. Still a great way to keep me on my toes. The high school students, college students, medical students, working professionals, and retired professionals who played with me all seemed to have a fun time with it.

I loved meeting the half a dozen or so White Coat Captioning clients who attended the conference; talking to someone in person whom you've only interacted with by Skype is always a wonderful experience. More than anything, though, I was awed to witness the tremendous camaraderie, advice and support shared amongst all the exceptionally brilliant people attending the conference. All sorts of scholars and professionals in diverse fields and at all stages of their careers were there, every single one of them ardently dedicated to helping their patients, their colleagues, and all future deaf and hard of hearing medical professionals. It was an incredible sight to see.


As stenographers, words are our business. We are word nerds. We love words!

Some of us love medical words more than others. Some perfectly great captioners who can handle legal or news or undergraduate school vocabulary with aplomb, for example, just don’t perform as well with medical jargon. Many choose not to.

With the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act over 20 years ago, students with hearing loss have received proper accommodation all throughout their grade school, high school, and undergraduate years. A growing number of people who were formerly excluded from graduate and professional schools (medical school, dental school, veterinary school, etc.) are now ready and able to shoot for the stars. These students need and deserve captioners who are specially trained and experienced in these fields.

There is a place for us med word nerds, and we at White Coat Captioning are here to fill that niche!

We are the medical terminology captioning specialists. We are an ever-expanding team of highly skilled, energetic, and caring captioners who are adept at medical terminology and the demanding environment of medical school classes. We work daily to provide the very best remote and onsite CART and captioning service for the white coat professions. We place a premium on accuracy in the realtime environment, thus minimizing any need for after-class editing, and ensuring quick transcript delivery for students who have extraordinary demands on their time.

We have built a solid reputation for excellence. We have years and years of day-in-and-day-out experience in captioning medical, veterinary, and dental school classes. Some of us have been through medical school three and four and five times already. Many of the students we have served, and their faculty, have jokingly suggested we ought to be taking the medical board exams by now.

But our real talents lie in writing the words to help our medical students with hearing loss to excel and to attain their dreams of becoming doctors, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, nurses, veterinary technicians, and more.

That is why we have created White Coat Captioning.