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Accessibility in the workplace and in academic settings has increased dramatically for users with disabilities, driven by greater awareness, legislative mandate, and technological improvements. Gaps, however, remain. For persons who are deaf and hard of hearing in particular, full participation requires complete access to audio materials, both for live settings and for prerecorded audio and visual information. Even for users with adequate hearing, captioned or transcribed materials offer another modality for information access, one that can be particularly useful in certain situations, such as listening in noisy environments, interpreting speakers with strong accents, or searching audio media for specific information. Providing this level of access through fully automated means is currently beyond the state of the art. This paper details a number of key advances in audio access that have occurred over the last five years. We describe the Liberated Learning Project, a consortium of universities worldwide, which is piloting technologies to create real-time access for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, without intermediary assistance. In support of this project, IBM Research has created the ViaScribe™ tool that converts speech recognition output to a viable captioning interface. Additional inventions and incremental improvements to speech recognition for captioning are described, as well as future directions.
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