Perverted Inclusion

So the conference of the Modern Languages Association, right? Emphasis on languages. As in many different languages. In my session, obviously, everybody is a Spanish-speaker.

Because Spanish is a language. Or so we thought.

At the beginning of my session, a representative of the association appears in my Zoom room and tells me that I have to turn on automatic speech recognition that will provide captions. For purposes of inclusion.

Sounds great, right?

That is, until you discover that this automatic speech recognition only understands one language. Which is THE language. English.

So what happens to those of us who speak other languages at the conference on modern languages? The speech recognition assumes we are speaking a defective version of English and transcribes all we say into English.

Mind you, it doesn’t translate. It transcribes.

I’m not allowed to turn off this garbage. As a result, it assigns to me things I never said and that the automatic speech recognition assumes I said. To my horror, I discovered that I spent half the session saying some sort of garbage about Taiwan. Which I never mentioned.

Another speaker was recorded as saying that “Oprah is a child controller.” She didn’t speak about Oprah or children.

Most shockingly, “Moshe should run Africa and go supreme” was a statement assigned to another speaker. I don’t think she knows because most people can’t follow subtitles as they speak.

The captions move so fast that it’s impossible to catch everything that goes into them.

At any other time, this would be funny. But the way things are, it’s downright dangerous to have a transcript associated with your name where statements are assigned to you without any input or control on your part.

This is how things always are with “inclusion.” Intentions are great but the result is both insulting and horrible.

6 thoughts on “Perverted Inclusion

  1. Yes, the transcriber is absolutely garbage when it comes to foreign languages, which is no news to anyone who watches Netflix or YouTube.

    So what did they say they were going to do to correct the transcription for rebroadcast or future viewing?
    It’s not very inclusive to provide garbled nonsense to people who do not speak the language or people who are hard of hearing. Plus, if you speak any language with an accent, the automatic translator will mess it up.

    But you knew this. Speech transcription software and Siri have been telling people they aren’t understandable for years.

    OT: Are you reading Klara and the Sun?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I stood in front of this novel for 15 minutes yesterday debating whether I want it. I hate Ishiguro’s high-tech novels, like that horrid one about clones. So I’m conflicted.


    1. It’s the assumption that everybody will speak English at a conference where the majority doesn’t by virtue of the topic that is bothering me. It’s the disrespect. The sheer contempt behind not even thinking that this might be a possibility.

      I’m not talking about a conference in biology or sociology. This is a conference for teachers of modern languages. You either do it in all languages or you don’t do it at all.


      1. “either do it in all languages or you don’t do it at all”

        I think they’ll be opting for the second… professionals in academia will be limited to administration and the diversity corps. Teaching is being downgraded and de-skilled (with the enthusiastic cooperation of teachers or even at their expressed command…. which is insane, but….).
        There might be a few researchers left, like exotic animals in a zoo, but do universities (except for a few private ones for the well-connected) really have a future?
        Is that even discussed at MLA or should I just laugh myself out of the room?


  2. I have dealt with these issues in my classes. The auto caption is not great even when you speak English, especially if you have an accent and use a lot of technical terms. The best way to truly help those who need captioning is to hire a live transcriptionist. Even that can be fraught with difficulties if the transcriptionist is not familiar with the technical terminology used, but it is a vastly superior solution. For lectures in English, the second best solution I found is to record the lecture and upload to YouTube. The YouTube auto caption generator is quite impressive in its accuracy and can deal with accents and technical terminology quite well. Note that it takes several hours for the auto-caption to complete and it only works well when a single person talks at a time.

    In the end, people mindlessly suggesting to turn on the auto-caption don’t really care about accessibility. The real solutions cost money and include hiring professional transcriptionists who do these things for living. Fortunately, my institution provided the necessary resources that made it possible. If your conference organizers care about this issue, they should do the same. A person who cannot hear well is not served well by inferior auto-captions.


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