Wits implements captioning technologies to affordably heighten accessibility.

Wits University is turning to technology to make education at its campuses accessible to students with hearing disabilities.

The university’s Disability Rights Unit has introduced the real-time captioning system to counter the high costs of assigning a personal sign language interpreter to each member of its community of students with hearing disabilities.

The system, developed in the USA, was piloted by Wits for the first time five years ago, according to the unit head, Dr Anlia Pretorius, who declined to say how the cost of the new system compares to the cost of a personal interpreter. Real-time captioning involves students being assigned an individual known as a captioner, who accompanies the student to lectures.

Real-time captioning makes lectures more accessible to deaf students

Real-time captioning makes lectures more accessible to deaf students

The captioner utilises a laptop connected via WiFi to an iPad. Both the laptop and iPad are equipped with software which allows the iPad to mirror the laptop screen.

The captioner, who is provided with notes prior to the lecture, is then able to type additional notes communicated verbally by the lecturer. The student is able to view these notes in real-time, ensuring that lectures are more inclusive of hearing-impaired students. According to Pretorius, the system works well as “once you walk out of the lecture hall, you have a complete set of notes”.

Ayesha Wadee, first-year Bachelor of Pharmacy, is one of the students making use of the system. Wadee, a 19-year-old with profound hearing loss in both ears, says that she uses the system “mostly when there are lectures, when there’s a lot of talking.”

Wadee is assigned to Disability Rights Unit academic and facilities access coordinator, Subhashini Ellan, as a captioner. “I don’t feel left out of anything,” says Ayesha.

The system is available via the Disability Rights Unit which is located on the first floor of the Robert Sobukwe Building.

See video on how the system works.