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An Engineer's Quest to Caption the Web

By CNN

February 9, 2010

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The Internet used to be a place where Ken Harrenstien could do anything.

The Google engineer, who has been deaf since childhood, loved the Web because he could e-mail and chat without the aid of a sign language translator. 

But as the Web evolved and got faster, online video started to flood in. And all of a sudden, this place that once allowed for limitless communication started to feel walled off to Harrenstien.

"It was only when they started adding videos that the Net was not my means of access, but it became a barrier," he said in a recent interview, speaking through signing interpreter. "And that was very frustrating."

The reason for Harrenstien's trouble is simple: Almost no video on the Internet comes paired with text captioning for the deaf.

While the U.S. Federal Communications Commission requires closed captioning for nearly all television programming, the same isn't true for online video.

But Harrenstien isn't sitting back and complaining. He's dedicated his career at Google to developing technology to bring closed captioning to the Internet.

It's a quest informed by personal experience. Harrenstien says his work is a reminder that being deaf isn't a limitation. It's empowering.

"It is extremely important [to my work] because I'm creating something I want and need for myself," Harrenstien said in a second interview, conducted through an Internet chat program.

From CNN
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