News: News Archives
New Software for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
While working on the launch of a new science education website for children, the two AAAS staff members assigned to the project realized that only children who could hear would be able to enjoy the Kinetic City website, with its fast-paced online games that take young scientists on an exciting interactive adventure.
So Jason Smith, technical director for AAAS' Education and Human Resources programs, came up with a solution. He created a computer software program as a "plugin" for Macromedia Flash, which allows the display of captions on the website.
"Jason's accomplishment exemplifies the commitment that we have at AAAS to make all our information available and accessible to everyone," said Shirley Malcom, Director of Education and Human Resources.
This new captioning software displays text and dialogue in any language setting for animation, video, movie, or games on the computer. In a sense, it is the Internet's solution to closed-captioning on television.
Smith worked on the site with project director Bob Hirshon. Andrew Kirkpatrick from the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) gave Smith access to MAGPIE, a type of software that matches audio clips with caption subtitles, and Smith used it to create a file to hold the captions and timings for any type of audio programmed into Kinetic City. Then, using the captioning software to translate the file, Smith converted it into a format specifically for Flash.
"This was a great opportunity for me to take something that had potential, and turn it into something that works to make the site accessible to many more people," explains Smith, "We are hoping to have the captions up and working by the end of this week."
Although this software is not the sole captioning program in existence, it is the first one to work with Macromedia Flash, which is the type of animation software that Kinetic City uses. Adding captions to programs can be done manually, but it can be a cumbersome and time-consuming job.
Currently, few websites have captions for their animations. Under current federal guidelines, only the government's websites are obligated to comply with accessibility standards as described in section 508, an amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) has published guidelines on making web content accessible to people with disabilities. These are beginning to be adopted by public and private websites.
Smith has been a software developer for nine years and has specialized in Flash for the past two. He is responsible for the management and planning of 8 AAAS websites. Kinetic City, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, will be launched in the next few weeks, although local programs have already started up in Washington, DC, New York and Boston.