Zoom now offers automatic subtitles, on request, for free accounts

The hugely popular video conferencing and calling platform, Zoom, will be providing automatic 'closed captioning' (subtitling) for all free accounts in the autumn - but individuals can request early access by filling out a simple form.

Zoom logo on computer screen

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Closed captions versus subtitles

Closed captions are basically the same as subtitles, although they do differ from subtitles in as much as captions should also include an indication of who is speaking, and any other important sounds that convey information in the meeting (such as applause etc).

Whilst many use subtitles to reinforce what they are listening to (for example those whose first language isn’t that of the speaker), deaf attendees will also benefit from those broader aspects of closed captions such as knowing about important sound effects or audience reaction.

It's not clear if the automatically-generated captions will include an indication of other sounds (unlikely) or the active speaker (although this is usually well indicated in a Zoom meeting anyway).

Providing an accessible platform

In a recent blog post, Zoom explained that it wants "to provide a platform that is accessible to all of the diverse communities we serve." Up until now, auto-captioning, known as ‘Live transcription’, has only been available for paid accounts - and it’s worth noting that it’s still only available in English. As with all automatic dictation or transcription services, accuracy can be impacted by background noise, the speaker’s microphone, the volume and clarity of their speech or their accent and the vocabulary being used.

It’s getting better all the time, but there will still be mistakes. This is why such real-time transcription can also still be done by an integrated third-party closed captioning service (or the host/assigned meeting attendee) for greater accuracy. Making automatic captions available in any meeting for any user who needs it, however, is a huge step forward in inclusion for an already very accessible platform.

Receive update ahead of official release

Zoom users requiring the service can now receive the update ahead of the broader release by filling out this simple and accessible request form - and it's available for all users, not just for those with pro accounts. "Since we expect a high volume of requests, we appreciate your patience as we work to make automatic closed captioning available for all of our users," says Jen Hill who is Zoom's product marketing manager.

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