Captioning is now available for select Haines Borough Zoom meetings. The feature was implemented for the first time at a Personnel Committee meeting on Nov. 24.

“Many people in the Haines Borough experience hearing loss. As I navigate our community, I always notice when people have hearing aids because I wear them, too, and I pick up on it when people struggle to hear in public,” said Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) employee Janine Allen, who originally proposed the idea to the borough.

Allen said captioning is a simple, cost-effective way to make borough meetings accessible to a broader audience.

“It’s really important that the borough attempts to be as accessible as they can be. The broader the group of community members who can attend borough meetings, the better. Accessibility leads to more diverse views and more creative problem solving. It encourages public participation and is a big part of helping people feel welcome,” she said, adding that captions can also be helpful for people who don’t have hearing loss, like those who want to follow along with the volume turned off to avoid disturbing others.

Allen said the idea for captioning borough meetings came from her own experience with hearing loss.

“I have had significant hearing loss since I was at least four years old and have always watched movies and television shows with captions on. Without captions, I have to work super hard to follow what I can—read lips, infer context—and it’s exhausting and I miss a lot,” Allen said.

Earlier this year, Allen participated in an online virtual space for people with disabilities and their allies called “Crip Camp,” which employed captioning. “I was stunned at how relaxed I felt in that setting, and how I could rest from trying so hard to follow the conversation by reading lips,” Allen said.

She said she had a similar, positive experience during her job interview for SAIL, which also offers captioning at its virtual meetings. In contrast, attending borough meetings has always been challenging, Allen said.

“Back when assembly meetings were still in person, I personally didn’t attend very often because I had such a hard time hearing. Other community members I know with hearing loss have reported the same to me,” Allen said. “It had already been on my mind that the borough should set up captioning for their meetings, but struggling in (a November coordinated transportation plan) meeting gave me the spark to finally contact (interim borough manager) Alekka (Fullerton) and request captions.”

Borough officials spoke enthusiastically about the captioning.

“I’m glad Janine contacted the borough to request that all borough meetings on Zoom be captioned,” said assembly member Carol Tuynman, who participated in the Nov. 24 Personnel Committee meeting. “As a person with substantial trauma-induced hearing and vision loss in childhood, I am extra sensitive to those who have physical or mental challenges.”

Captions for borough meetings are generated using the same online service SAIL uses for its meetings, The borough pays $20 a month for computer-generated captions. The captions are relatively accurate but not perfect.

“This service that we’re using, it claims it’s eighty percent accurate with the computer doing it,” said tourism director Steven Auch, who has been overseeing Zoom logistics for borough meetings. “We could pay for a completely different service that includes much more accuracy, but the price can skyrocket.”

More accurate captioning tends to involve a human being transcribing the meeting in real time.

Allen said despite inaccuracies,’s captions are much better than nothing.

“The technology has come a long way, but it still has a ways to go. That said, I would rather have captioning than not have it, so in my view it’s a good start and I’m so grateful to the borough for trying it out,” she said.

Auch said the borough might consider making changes to the captioning service depending on the feedback it receives.

“We’ll keep it going unless we hear the translation is terrible, and then we’ll explore a more expensive option,” Auch said. He said he’s currently working to improve the captions by adding Haines-specific words like “Chilkat,” “Tlingit” and “Alekka” to the service’s dictionary.