Live captions (“subtitles”) in the operating theatre

What can we do in the operating theatre where face masks prevent us lip-reading, the surgeon is looking down so we can’t see their face, or there’s too much background noise? Transparent face masks can help (awaiting link for further information). As can radio aids (also awaiting link.)

Amanda Mooneyham, a medical student in the US, is using live captioning* so she is able to take an active part in the learning situation in theatre, on an equal footing with her hearing colleagues.

See this short video.  (If like me you can’t hear it very well, click the CC button for subtitles. Or try the “interactive transcript” button below the screen. I haven’t seen interactive subtitles before. Neat.)

The operating theatre has a live internet link to a speech-to-text reporter (also known as a palantypist) who transcribes everything word for word in the same way a court reporter does. The text is displayed on a tablet computer. Amanda can read what someone in theatre says almost immediately it is spoken.

Amanda says, “the main thing that I use it for is when they are quizzing us in the middle of the procedure, especially questions about anatomy. …. At other points there will be commands like ‘hold this retractor’ or ‘cut this suture.'”

She also uses hearing aids and picks up clues from body language. As she says, “I use visual cues. A lot of times there are posture changes, their hands change or there’s a pause … It’s really a visual game …. Deaf people are visual learners by nature so it’s nice to be able to take part in something that kind of uses our strengths.”

Her tutors want to make sure that all their students have a similar experience, whatever interests, background or disability they may have. “Who knows, Amanda may decide she wants to be a surgeon.” “If she has the motivation, we have to bring in the means.”

What about in the UK? Well, I don’t yet know of someone using speech-to-text in the operating theatre in the UK but some people are using it for some of their training or in conferences. If we don’t ask, we won’t get. So consider asking whether you can have speech to text reporting (STTR) for certain parts of your work and training.

Most commonly, the palantypist joins you wherever you are. Some can also offer remote STTR over an internet connection, as Amanda has in theatre.

Please do get in touch if you have experience to pass on of using STTR. Thanks.

Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning
Link to CCAC website

This video was distributed by CCAC, an international group of volunteers advocating better access to captioning and CART (realtime captioning/live speech to text reporting.) They welcome new members and opportunities to collaborate with other organisations and individuals .



*It’s usually called (realtime) captioning in the US and (live) speech to text reporting in the UK.

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One thought on “Live captions (“subtitles”) in the operating theatre”

  1. Hello I am in the UK and am desperately looking for a solution to working in theatre as a midwifery student. Any information about how this works and costs would be really helpful. Thanks.

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