Live Caption Accessibility: The Good, the Bad Bunny & the Ugly Truth

From film festival screenings to the Grammys and Super Bowl LVII, live events—big and small—continue gallant efforts to improve their inclusion factor. PR teams are quick to tout their accessibility victories in headlines with the all too familiar song and dance—meanwhile, Deaf accessibility still gets second billing.

Tech support and accessibility tools like live captions are readily available, so why the slow uptick on utilization for so many corporations?

Live Nation is one of the largest event promoters slinging tickets today and still, most of their shows do not (yet) include live captions for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Live Nation says when they get a request for an interpreter, they hire a local CDI or Certified Deaf Interpreter. Reactive, sure... but, proactive? Not so much.

Self-advocacy is a whole other topic, but we’re wondering why Live Nation and other companies are not taking initiative when these solutions are in demand for an audience currently being excluded.

Two images of Grammy performer Bad Bunny side by side with the words Speaking Non-English and Singing in Non-English.

Source: CBS

For performing arts enthusiasts and lovers of music, comedy and theater, live events evoke a feeling of community and culture. And for over 1.5 billion people worldwide—who need auditory transcription, audio information or language translation—live captions prove integral to these experiences.

Captions Gone Wrong At The Grammys

The 2023 Grammy awards show opened with a Spanish language performance of “El Apagón” and “Después de la Playa'' by Latin global superstar “Bad Bunny” (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio) coupled with captions that read “[SINGING IN NON-ENGLISH]”. Later that same evening, his acceptance speech was partially in Spanish—followed by captions that read “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]”.

The language negligence exhibited during Benito’s initial Grammy appearance excluded millions of Spanish speakers here in the U.S. For the CBS network, the flop represented a flawed captioning process and the lack of intentional inclusion and diversity. This is a problem with a clear solution. This particular caption mishap sheds more light on the accessibility gaps present at live shows for those who speak a foreign language, are Deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Accessible Future Kickoff

While the Grammys missed the mark on captioning, other live shows continue the forward motion of the accessibility needle.

Super Bowl LVII kicked off its broadcast with Colin Denny and Troy Kotsur, Oscar-winning actor from "CODA", delivering a memorable performance of the Star Spangled Banner. During the halftime show, Justina Miles interpreted Rihanna's performance. In years past, performances have been interpreted by signers who are not Deaf. However, this year’s inclusion of three Deaf artists is a step towards a more accessible world.

Source: YouTube

Nevertheless, there are still more steps to take on the march for that brightly lit future. More air time and top billing would surely help. Also, links to the performances were not the easiest to find on the web, with some mislabeled and glitchy. And even with technology available for global events such as the Super Bowl, the feed specifically designed for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing did not include captionswho is in charge, here?

Image of a Tweet that mentions captions failed to stream properly.

Source: Twitter

4 Reasons Why Live Captions Matter

1. Safety Precautions

Quality live captions go beyond just eliminating missed or misheard lyrics, audio cues, punchlines, or ads for sponsors. They are critical for safety reasons. In the event that there is an in-venue emergency, audio information such as messaging and announcements must be clear.

2. Wider Audience Reach

Although English is the world's most spoken language, only 17% of the global population actually speaks it. And, 70% of the 112 countries studied in the EF English Proficiency Index have moderate or lower English proficiency.

To reach a wider audience, including those who aren’t native English speakers, live event closed captions can be used to provide transcription translated into various languages. Closed captioning can also help non-English speakers improve their language skills by following along with captions while listening to the audio, making it a win-win situation.

Source: YouTube

3. Enhance Audience Experience

There’s no doubt that at live events, there’s a lot going on which can be challenging for attendees, let alone attendees with hearing loss. Closed captioning for live events not only makes it easier for audiences to retain information, but also keeps them engaged and improves average watch time. By providing audiences with closed captioning for live events, it improves their experience and increases engagement levels. Web accessibility or accessible websites can also enhance an online audience experience, as well.

4. Compliance

Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) established revolutionary accessibility standards that impact private and public entities alike. While the ADA does not explicitly mention online or live video, it mandates the provision of "auxiliary aids and services" to ensure effective communication for anyone with a disability. Indeed, captioning is considered to be an auxiliary aid for live events.

According to ADA guidelines, captioning is required for:

  • "Public entities," such as state and local governments, in both internal and external communications.
  • "Places of public accommodation," which are public or private businesses used by the general public. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt.

Live auto-captioning software, which uses Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology, may be an option but is rarely accurate enough to be considered a reasonable accommodation for viewers with hearing loss. Providing an optimal viewer experience to the audience–hearing or not—is key. Therefore, live professional captioning which uses a professional human captioner to deliver highly accurate real-time captions is the best choice.

Captions vs "Craptions"

For disabled attendees, the exhilaration of live events can be hindered by accessibility logistics. The seamlessness–or lack thereof—of access and the quality of software solutions such as live captions can make or break the experience for fans who live with a range of disabilities.

While the presence of captions for streaming or televised content is straightforward, live-venue captioning can be tricky. The process for all live captioning involves audio transcription into real-time text. However, the difference with in-person captions is that the venue captions are either displayed on a venue’s screen or monitor, or can be streamed to a smartphone. Ambient noise can interfere with accuracy and disrupt the feed—an issue that needs quite a bit of technical finessing.  

As is the case with any performance or show, captions must be accurate in order for Deaf, hard-of-hearing people, or others that depend on captions to fully participate. When caption quality is compromised, so is a fan’s experience. After all, bad captions, or “craptions” may be worse than no captions at all.

Image with two different blue tones that reads Bye Bye Craptions. Create a more inclusive experience for your audience by turning craptions into captions.

Source: Ava

Not Just an Accessibility Tool

Live caption and speech-to-text transcription features on a web app like Ava are far from just an accessibility tool designed to only help people with hearing loss. They also help:

  • Hearing people watching video without audio, or recording a conversation
  • As an additional visual aid
  • Non-native speakers, or traveling abroad
  • Individuals who may have missed what was said
  • People with learning disabilities, such as ADHD

The Saving Grace of Technology

Accessibility statements are important in this day and age of DEI. Technology can help bridge communication and accessibility gaps, but that does not replace the responsibility of the venue, promoter or any company with a website to accommodate accessibility needs. Live event producers have the privilege to gratify Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences the same as they would a hearing audience.

For audience members with hearing loss that want to take matters into their own hands, captioning software like Ava can help. The app enhances participation for users at in person events by enabling live captions and translation features that can transform a show into an accessible experience.

A Live Caption Revolution

Mishaps like Bad Bunny’s captions gone wrong at the Grammys performance are clear displays that accessibility at live shows needs higher priority. Barriers to access—like lack of accommodations for Deaf and hard-of-hearing fans—have long prevented people with disabilities from enjoying live shows and communal events like someone without a disability.

Individuals with disabilities know all too well what it means to miss an event because it’s not accessible or because event hosts or producers fail to consider their needs. Live captions solve only a handful of the inaccessibility issues. It requires ongoing awareness with a coordinated effort from venues, promoters and fans to ensure inclusion and access for all fans—not just for the ones without a disability.