Captions: Better and Better!

I don’t like to write about apps and products that I don’t use myself, because the first-person experience is very important when dealing with hearing devices. But when I find one I like, I want to share it.

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In the past few months, I’ve been using a transcription app called Otter.ai. Otter has been around since early 2018 and is intended to be a transcription tool for business and other meetings. But it’s great for the deaf and hard of hearing. Otter is available for iPhone or Android. It’s free for the first 600 minutes a month, which is more than enough for me. Upgrading to 6000 minutes costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year for business, $2.99 per month for students and teachers.

It’s very simple to use. Once you’ve downloaded it you tap the microphone icon and start talking. Otter recognizes different voices and starts new paragraphs with each new speaker. It also punctuates fairly accurately. You can adjust the size of the type. Although I haven’t tried this, I believe it can identify each speaker.

The transcript takes a while to show up, which can be confusing if you are using this to hear. The first few times this happened to me, I thought Otter was not connected to the internet via Wifi or cell. Now I know I just have to be patient. One way around the problem is to start talking into the app before the important part of the conversation begins. When the transcription finally appears, start your meeting. From here on the transcription will be close to real time. Be sure to read the privacy policy if you are concerned about confidential material.

I have increasingly found, however, that although Otter is recording the conversation it is not providing captions — or at least live captions. It seems to be related to wifi access. Since I — and my readers — are much more interested in Otter as a captioning device than as a recording device, it’s important to understand whether or not the app can work on cell service or if it requires Wifi. I didn’t realize how much of an issue this was when I wrote the post. I’ll research it and amend the post as needed.

Also, as noted in the comments below, if you are also using your telecoil to access a hearing loop or other assistive device, Otter turns your telecoil off. Not good. Otter is not intended as a captioning device — it’s meant for transcription. So maybe we’re asking more of it than it is offering.

Nevertheless, if all goes well, the conversation is saved and can be accessed from your computer for editing. For a fuller description of what Otter can do, read this review from PC Magazine.

Some of you may have read “Captions Wherever You Go,” a post I did on Google Live Transcribe last spring. Once I discovered Otter I stopped using Google because it was much easier to have one phone for all functions. But Android users may find Google Transcribe more to their taste than Otter.

My other favorite app is Innocaption, which is meant specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing. I’ve been using this app on my iPhone 8 for the past year or so, and it is also available for Android. Previously, the only way I could talk on the phone was with my landline captioned phone.

After you register with Innocaption and download the free app, you’re ready to go. Innocaption will assign you a phone number, but if you’ve been using another mobile phone number and don’t want to change, you can have the Innocaption number forward to that number for both incoming and outgoing calls. If you have a Made for iPhone or Android hearing aid, the sound will go wirelessly to your hearing aid or cochlear implant. The captions appear on your phone screen. If you don’t have a Made for iPhone or Android device, you can use a streamer to transmit the audio.

You can transfer your contact list as well as your favorites list. Innocaption also keeps a record of recent calls. To make a call, you click on the Innocaption icon. You can make a call much the way you always have, either by clicking on a favorite number or by inputting the number on the keypad. To answer an incoming call, click on the Innocaption icon on your smartphone screen. Innocaption also provides captioned voice mail. An icon of what looks like a pair of glasses appears on the icon. Tap once and takes you to the keypad. Tap once on the hashtag. it will automatically dial your voice mail. Just follow the prompts to get messages and to save or delete. Innocaption, for the most part, uses human transcribers, which improves accuracy. If no humans are available, it offers a voice-recognition transcription. I find that if I hang up and try again in a few minutes, a human often is then available.

Most smartphones have other dictation apps as well. On the iPhone, any text app also has a microphone app that will provide a live transcription. Here’s a link to various tricks you can use with dictation apps to save time and increase accuracy. If you want explicit directions for using a dictation app, check out this article from Business Insider.

Please share your experiences with these or other apps in the comment section.

For more about living with hearing loss, read my books, available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and maybe at your favorite bookstore or library. If it’s not there, ask for it!

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23 thoughts on “Captions: Better and Better!

  1. Thank you for this article, Katherine. I recently used Otter at a funeral, in a place where I can never hear anything. I was so pleased because the people who spoke about my deceased friend
    described him exactly as I would have and I could hear them! Using Innocaption on my iPhone is also very helpful.

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    • The speaker has to be picked up by the microphone on your device, such as a smartphone. So the speaker can be farther away if using amplification ( microphone going into a speaker).

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      • I haven’t tried Otter in a room with someone using a p.a. system and microphone. Ordinarily it seems to have a ten or twelve foot range in a quiet room with only one person speaking at a time.

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  2. Thank you! This is very informative.

    I have been using Innocaption for quite awhile, and it is so good I am considering getting rid of my landline. Can’t wait to try Otter. I would like to use it for my writing groups and wonder what the range is for multiple participants.

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  3. I would just like to report that I used Google Live Transcribe on my new Galaxy S10+ phone last month while touring Croatia in a motor coach. I was pleased that the app picked up most of what the guide was saying into his microphone from the front of the bus (he sat next to the driver), despite notices of noise from “vehicle” and “wind,” the latter being the air vent. I have never been able to understand voice from a speaker, so I was overjoyed to be able to follow along while riding a tour bus! Only problem is that the app requires access to the Internet and would occasionally cut out, as when we were in the mountains where we lost reception. One can use the tour bus’ WiFi, but again, WiFi strength is important. I will try using Otter in a meeting, such as a writer group. I would love to learn from readers if they’ve had success transcribing a lecture being delivered from a podium about 15 feet away.

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  4. At a Board Meeting in a Hearing looped room. I wanted to use Otter but it cuts off the TCoil. On a group meeting, I used Otter to read what was being said through the Zoom meeting, and people said there was feedback. But. Otter transcribed the meeting for me very well. I would like to ask Otter why my T coil goes down if I tap Otter. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Adelaide, I’ve also experienced this. It’s a significant glitch. Today I was testing a hearing loop and so had my hearing aid set to T-coil. I also wanted to hear what the people around me were saying, but I couldn’t get both the live captions and the signal from the loop. It’s a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I discovered Otter ai while taking a class at UCLA last Fall. It was a film class with over 200 students in an auditorium. As long as the professor or guest speaker were using their mic, (there was a state
    of the art sound system), it got every word and for some reason identified the name of the class. Because the class was 4 hours twice a week for ten weeks, it really came in handy and I never went over my free 600 minutes. The key is a good sound system and a clear mic and little or no background noise. Haven’t had the opportunity to try it in a large meeting because I always have CART. I don’t use a t-coil so I can’t speak to it only allowing one technology to work at a time. Perhaps when 5G becomes available, the limitations will diminish.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi, another comment about Live Transcribe to share: I learned from my HearPeers group (MED-EL), that I can use my Bluetooth neckloop (Artone 3 Max, purchased on Amazon) as an alternative microphone for Live Transcribe. I first made sure the settings for Live Transcribe/microphone was selected for Artone, then I left the phone on the kitchen table while I went outside, shutting the door behind me. When I returned to the kitchen, I was astounded to discover that Live Transcribe caught what I said perfectly. This suggests to me that I could place the Artone on or near a speaker and receive the transcription. HOWEVER, I would not be able to use the Artone with my telecoils at the same time. Same situation as reported above – one or the other but not both.

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  7. I don’t often get to Regal theaters, but have liked their caption devices because you can look up at the screen rather than down at the AMC type devices. However, the Regal glasses are rather heavy and uncomfortable, or at least were the last time I was there.The problem at AMC is that the devices really don’t fit well in the cupholders and are therefore hard to get in. The similar devices at Landmark 57 are much better, because they can be adjusted to fit the holder. In addition, a Landmark employee will come set it up for you. Finally, Landmark 57 is also looped. Tickets there are a little more expensive than at other theater, but the experience is much better. Plus, they show good movies, not the type of action films that predominate at large chains.

    By the way, Hawaii has an option caption law, as reported in Washington City paper:
    In 2015, Hawaii became the only state in the country to pass legislation requiring its theaters to host open caption screenings. The law required theaters with more than two locations to provide at least two open caption showings per week of each film. Since then, however, the law has weakened and theaters are now only required to show one open caption screening per week, or offer closed captioning devices.

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    • Thanks for all this information Jon. One reason I haven’t tried the Regal glasses is that I already wear glasses that feel heavy on my nose. I also have a hearing aid behind one ear and a cochlear implant behind the other — in addition to the earpiece of my glasses. There’s not much room left back there for a second pair of glasses.

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  8. For those wanting to use telecoil and captioning together: Buy a $200 iPod and use it for the captioning while you use your other smartphone phone for hearing. You can do this with the iPod on the Internet. Also, remember that Skype now has captioning. Unlike Innocaption recorded transcripts are not available.

    As an Android user, I have been using an iPod for my phone calls (with an Internet connection, not a phone line) so I get the benefit of Apple’s MFi direct sound into my cochlear implant. This feature on Android is due soon.

    Paul Lurie

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  9. I much prefer the gooseneck devices to the glasses. The glasses hurt me
    a lot.
    Yesterday I used the gooseneck device at the AMC but it had a screw on instead of
    the drink cup. I could not get it screwed on, and so held it in my lap. It worked but
    I like just standing up and putting my weight around the rubber bases to get it
    securely in the drink cup.

    On the Captivue devices, the buttons are helpful. A is for the theater you are in. If captions
    for another movie come up, just scroll through A until you come to number of your theater. I ALWAYS
    ask if the devices are fully charged. Afterwards, I thank the people profusely and tell the employee how
    wonderful these devices are for hard of hearing people like me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am so grateful for this blog and these comments. Did not know Landmark 57 was looped. That would be my personal preference. I’ve had all the problems with he cupholder devices that people describe above. I also wear glasses and BTE cochlear implant processors, so adding the Regal glasses is a challenge. They also get uncomfortable, although seem to have fewer problems than the cup holders and you can watch the movie at the same time.

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