Braille Radio

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Image of a man using the live-captioned radio brallerDeveloping Radio for the Deaf and the Deaf-Blind
To produce the first, live-captioned radio programming and Braille radio programming, NPR Labs software developers and engineers joined forces with a cognitive scientist/professor from Towson, Dr. Ellyn Sheffield, who researched, designed and developed a captioning center using a process known as voice writing. The center uses commercially available voice recognition software and proprietary editing tools to create virtual real-time captioning for radio broadcasts. The aim of the project was to use new digital technologies in an affordable way while producing timely, accurate captions.

How Live-Captioned Radio Works
To create live-captioned radio, a broadcast is fed from NPR headquarters to Towson University, where voice writers are listening on headphones and continually re-speaking everything that they hear. That audio output is fed to a caption editor who corrects and formats the information for readability before is the captions are transmitted to consumers. All this occurs within 20 seconds of the live broadcast. Captions are currently available on the program providers' websites, but in the future will be available through NPR Member Station websites as well.

The team also wanted to make the content available for the deaf-blind, so they converted the captioning feed for use with stand-alone Refreshable Braille Displays.

Interested Audiences and First Captioned Program
Throughout the process, the team had input from a range of national and regional organizations, including the Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Helen Keller National Center, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Federation of the Blind, the American Association of the Deaf-Blind, Gallaudet University and more than 50 other interested organizations and their members. This initial work was supported by a grant from the Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

As a result, the team recently introduced the first live-captioned radio show, Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa, distributed by NPR. Captions can be seen on the program's web site.


  • Captioned Braille Radio Initiative: Providing Emergency Information for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind Adobe PDF Icon
    September 2011 - This paper focuses on the authors’ progress on a project entitled Captioned Braille Radio Initiative: Providing Emergency Information for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind. This project has been designed to incorporate new CAP technology, the implementation of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning aggregator, and recent technology upgrades of the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS). Its design has been tested by both blind and deaf-blind individuals, who make up the target user community.
  • International Telecommunications Union supports Captioned Radio by pushing ITU standards recommendation ITU-R BS 1894 Adobe PDF Icon
    May 2011The ITU announced that balloting had been completed by the 192 member countries and that Captioned Radio, a standard that has been in the making for over two years was successfully adopted as a consensus recommendation.  The document strongly encourages all of the internationally recognized digital radio systems to add Captioned Radio transmissions and for consumer electronics manufacturers to build products for the new service. 
  • Increasing Braille Radio Reading Speed for Deaf-Blind Consumers Adobe PDF Icon
    May 28, 2011 In 2010, a study was conducted with 30 blind and deaf-blind consumers to identify average reading speeds, and to measure if there are ways to increase reading speeds. NPR Labs implemented two techniques to try and increase reading rate while maintaining memory – telegraphic text and scaffolding.