March 5 2019 09:57 AM

Closed captioning available for City Council tapes

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Anne Urasky, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, highlight accessibility improvements for weekly City Council meetings on Tuesday.


TUESDAY, March 5 — A city investment aims to bolster accessibility to weekly City Council meetings.


Lansing Mayor Andy Schor today highlighted more than $100,000 in recent investments designed to bolster governmental accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing. Improvements this year include the installation of assistive listening devices and closed captioning services made available for all re-broadcasted meeting footage.


Schor said Lansing is among the first cities in Michigan to take solid steps toward increased accessibility. The ongoing improvements are guided by the mayor’s recently formed Diversity and Inclusion Commission and the Lansing Public Media Center. And additional improvements are already in the pipeline for next year, he said.


“Accessible government fulfills a key promise of democracy — government for all people,” said Annie Urasky, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing. “Simply saying we want to be accessible is not enough. Government has to take action.”


Urasky said a recent needs assessment survey indicated a “high number” of local respondents had experienced some barriers in accessing city services. She said the steps taken by the city are not only legally required, but also help to enhance transparency between city officials and the local residents who elected them to office.


Captioned tapes will be available after each meeting, but Schor said the city plans to roll out live captioning support — with more real human transcriptions — over the next year. Thousands of archived meeting tapes and other city productions will also be redubbed with captions as the accessibility improvements continue, he said.


The initial $100,000 investment comes directly from the small portion of fees that local cable TV subscribers pay to the Lansing Public Media Center. Those fees — know as public, education and government fees — total to about $350,000 annually and can only be used for infrastructure or to enhance public access programming.


Over the years, those funds have swelled to about $1.6 million, according to city records.


Assistive listening devices are essentially headphones wired to amplify audio for the listener. About a dozen of them will be made available for every public meeting. Officials said the closed captioning will be slowly added to four years of various City TV footage at a rate of about $1 per minute. A firm timeline hasn’t been established.


“We currently have about four years of council meetings in the on-demand archive, plus around a thousand non-council meeting departmental programs on our archive,” said Dominic Cochran, director of the Lansing Public Media Center. “Of course, managing the process itself is a big time investment for our staff as well.”