The Center for Jewish Education’s JADE program, which stands for Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education, held its monthly ASL Meetup on Monday at the Park Heights JCC to discuss how to make Jewish-centered films and videos more accessible to people with hearing loss.
About 20 people attended the American Sign Language Meetup, held in the JCC’s board room. The group meets monthly to raise awareness of and advocate for inclusion of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the Jewish community.
“How can we make the Jewish community more accessible by adding captions?” said Yael Zelinger, coordinator of the JADE program.
The group first watched a captioned video from the ELI Talks series. Zelinger thought the message of inclusion in the video, in addition to its being captioned, was a good jumping-off point to discuss moving forward with encouraging more area Jewish organizations and rabbis to include captioning with their films, DVDs and online video content.
She asked the group to give a “huge shout out” to Martha Goodman, coordinator of the Maryland Special Needs Advocacy Program for CJE. Zelinger said that Goodman contacted Gallaudet University and IT professionals and taught herself how to add captioning to a video lecture series by Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi for the Women’s Institute of Torah.
“And now we want to open it up to the Jewish deaf and hard-of-hearing community. What do you want to see captioned? What do you think is important going forward?” Zelinger asked.
“In our dream world, everything would be captioned automatically,” said Louis Caplan, who led the meeting.
But many of those in attendance expressed frustration at the dearth of Jewish-themed educational and entertainment videos, DVDs and streaming media that include captioning, leaving them feeling frustrated and left out. And while closed- captioning services, such those available on Comcast and Verizon work, “they aren’t perfect,” Caplan said and aren’t available for programming such as lectures posted online by local rabbis.
Caplan pointed out that adding captions is a slow and tedious process of transcribing a video and then synching the timing of the speech with the written word.
“And usually if something takes time, it takes money,” Caplan said. “So, what I wanted to find out is, first, do we have any boundaries for what you are looking for? I’m assuming you don’t want to caption old Wonder Woman videos but focus more on the Jewish theme.”
Yoel Krigsman said he has contacted a local rabbi whose lectures he enjoys and would like to see captioned. “I have been emailing Rabbi Silber asking him to caption his archives,” Krigsman said. Rabbi Shmuel Silber is spiritual leader of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim in Pikesville. Silber’s video classes and podcasts of lectures are available through his Institute for Jewish Continuity website.
Krigsman suggested that if a group of people joined in a captioning request, it might be more successful that just one person asking.
Goodman told Krigsman she had been looking at Silber’s content and listening to his live presentations. “It caused me to realize how many things he had online,” she said. “I wonder if you and maybe others could express preferences, because certainly we’re not going to be able to caption everything.”
Mizrachi’s and Silber’s lectures include a lot of Hebrew, which can make the captioning process more difficult and slow. “The more English there is, that’s going to be a lot more accessible for us to caption,” Goodman said, adding that some of Silber’s classes include notes or transcripts. “That’s not the same thing as hearing a live presentation, but you can read it,” she said.
Benjamin Dubin said the group should enlist the entire Jewish community in understanding the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.
“I don’t think that the J, CJE, Shemesh or The Associated should be promoting anything that’s not captioned. We shouldn’t buy DVDs from a publisher if they’re not captioned,” he said. “The Associated, on their website now is promoting community activities, and any videos that they have are captioned. And I think that we need to take a position that while these rabbis’ programs are great, we shouldn’t be offering them to our total Jewish community unless they’re accessible to everybody.”
Dubin added that captioning aids more than the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and would be helpful to English-language learners, including the area’s large Russian and Hispanic populations. “We have people from all over the world,” he said. “Captioning helps everybody, and I think that should be where we start. We have to educate the community as a community.”
As a jumping-off point, Goodman suggested that the group contact local video producers, ask them to produce five-minute sample videos with captions and focus on working with them.
Others suggested working with rabbis to educate congregations and get their video content captioned, as well as working with congregation presidents and boards who control the purse strings.
“It’s a matter of making inclusion a natural thing,” Dubin said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s Orthodox, ultra- Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. We have to publicize what’s available in the community and what we would like to see our community do for the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.”
For more information, visit cjebaltimore.org/jade.