03/06/2016 08:17 BST | Updated 18/05/2017 06:12 BST

Captionism: Tearing Down Barricades for the Hearing Impaired


As Steve Friess recently highlighted in a piece for Time Magazine, in our digital era - one group -- is "left out of the conversation". Friess a hearing impaired, prominent journalist and self-proclaimed "Apple fanboy" writes of his frustration at being left out in the cold during product launches or news coverage by tech giants or major news corporations who all lack live captioning on their streams.

At Captionism we have tried to address a problem that goes far beyond that. Friess is not alone, there are 360m people in the world that are classified as having disabling hearing loss. In an age marked by the speed and reach that knowledge is spread within the economy and society, for some digital exclusion is a modern-day reality.

Global Solution

Globally the hearing impaired leave school on average 4 years behind in education. In developing countries they are often excluded from basic schooling, suffer from higher unemployment rates and are at best destined for low grade manual work. Even in First World nations they leave school with lower qualifications in comparison to others with similar aptitudes, abilities and social background.

The hearing impaired need better access to educational resources to transform their lives instead of needless digital exclusion. However educational publishers have found captioning too expensive, while Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) remains inaccurate and unreliable.

The idea for Captionism was born from a hack4good hackathon in London where we were proud to win first place. Our early successes, the sweeping positive customer feedback and market reception have all helped in pushing us towards a commercially viable and hence sustainable venture that can serve the hearing impaired worldwide.

90% Cheaper

We use Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) to produce first guess captions and add them to the Captionism app. Whenever our 'Captionists' have a few minutes to spare, they crowd-check the ASR guesses and help us automatically approve 80-90% of the captions and we only have to manually edit the remaining, reducing the labour required from 2 hours to just 20 minutes for 10 minutes of speech. This enables us to be 90% cheaper than traditional service providers and hence making it affordable for any educational publisher or other good causes to caption their videos and podcasts.

Caption to be Heard & Noticed

The benefits of Captionism to publishers are much more than just helping the hearing impaired. Without captions, publishers are potentially overlooked by many non-native English speakers or those who - for a multitude of reasons -- find captions useful.

Captionism is still an early stage start-up and currently partnering with a few UK educational publishers to co-develop the final service, and plan to open up the platform to everyone in autumn 2016.

Our social impact mission is to help hearing impaired to improve their prospects and counter the impact of not having equal access to conventional education. So we only provide a service to educational publishers and other good causes.

If you make or market educational videos we would be happy to hear from you via our website

If you want to help by becoming a 'Captionist' please visit Try

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