Zoom is getting a major update that will bring automatic closed captioning to all users, not just those who pay for the hugely popular video calling service.

AI-powered live transcriptions are already available for paying Zoom members, but the announcement means those on the free tier will also be able to enjoy automatic subtitles when the feature rolls out in the fall.

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Non-paying users currently have to rely on free transcription services, or type out all their messages for the benefit of group members with hearing loss. So the fact that it will now be available to all is a big win for accessibility, even if closed captioning should never have been paywalled in the first place

And there’s further good news: if you have immediate need of live transcriptions, you can complete this form

to request access in advance. Zoom says it will respond to requests “within 1 to 2 weeks” — which is a lot better than waiting several months, or coughing up $150 a year for a paid account.

The feature is reliant on meeting hosts turning it on, however. So bear that in mind if you, or anyone you work with, has hearing loss and would benefit from better closed captioning in meetings. The tool also only supports English right now.

As good as this news is, it has me wondering why a basic accessibility feature was locked behind a paywall in the first place. Video calls are incredibly reliant on audio, and without the appropriate tools, accessibility can be an issue for people who have hearing loss.

It’s good to see that Zoom is fixing that past transgression. But, like the convoluted rollout of free end-to-end encryption, it’s taking its sweet time about the whole thing. Zoom may not have the resources it needs to roll out live transcriptions to everyone in one fell swoop, but I can’t help wonder how its timeline could be shortened.

Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction, and at least there’s a system to ensure live subtitles will be available to those that need it the most. And to make things fairer, the rest of us are just going to have to sit back and be patient.

Now we just need all the other video call services to follow suit — while Microsoft Teams and Skype have been offering live captions for a good few years now, most platforms still lack this important feature.

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