Skype Adds Live Captioning and Subtitles for Improved Accessibility

Microsoft is also adding similar capabilities to PowerPoint in early 2019 to help people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities.

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Microsoft Skype

Microsoft's Skype video calling, web conferencing and chat application now has live captioning and subtitles to make it easier to use for users who are deaf, have hearing disabilities or who speak different languages.

The new live captioning and subtitle capabilities will also arrive natively in Microsoft PowerPoint in early 2019, according to a recent post on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog by Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the company's chief accessibility officer.

The improvements are available immediately in Skype as an automatically scrolling caption, she wrote, but the feature will be expanded soon to use a side window where users can peruse the text that was previously displayed on the screen. In addition, Skype will soon be adding translation support for more than 20 languages to help users who speak in different languages.

"As someone with deafness, I'm incredibly passionate about captioning," wrote Lay-Flurrie. "It's part of my daily toolkit of accommodations I use to navigate my day in addition to my wonderful American Sign Language interpreters."

While captioning has become a standard at Microsoft events and in the company's videos, the new Skype and upcoming PowerPoint captioning capabilities will add long-needed services for deaf and hard-of-hearing users to make the applications more inclusive, she said.

The captioning and subtitle services mean that users will be able to see real-time transcriptions of a presenter's spoken words onscreen either in the same language or in a different language.

When the services launch as part of PowerPoint, they will support presentations in one of more than 10 spoken languages and captions and subtitles on the screen in one of more than 60 text languages, wrote Lay-Flurrie.

For Skype users, the captioning and subtitle options can be turned on easily as needed, providing services for users that are fast, continuous and contextually updated as people speak. Over the next few weeks, Skype will roll out translation support for more than 20 languages and dialects, she wrote. The captioning can be used for a single call or left on for all calls, depending on the user’s requirements.

The captioning services are powered by Microsoft's artificial intelligence research.

The live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint will begin rolling out in late January 2019 and will be available for Office 365 subscribers worldwide for PowerPoint on Windows 10, PowerPoint for Mac and PowerPoint Online, according to Microsoft.

The new accessibility tools were unveiled as part of the company's recent recognition of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities

.

The features join other accessible features in Office 365, including expanded availability of automatic closed captions and searchable transcripts for videos in Microsoft Stream, enhancements to the

Office 365 Accessibility Checker

and more.

With more than a billion people with disabilities around the world, Microsoft said it is releasing the new tools as part of its continuing efforts to create more accessible and inclusive technology experiences for users.