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(Credit: Skype)

Most people are able to listen to a speaker doing a PowerPoint presentation or hear the other person in a Skype call. But those who are deaf or hard of hearing are at a disadvantage in those situations. Now, Microsoft is trying to enhance these applications to reach out to a wider audience.

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Both PowerPoint and Skype will support live captions and subtitles, Microsoft announced in a blog post marking the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The goal is to offer an alternative means of following a spoken PowerPoint presentation or participating in a Skype audio or video call.

For PowerPoint, the live captions and subtitles will roll out in early 2019 to offer real-time transcriptions of a presenter's speech. The text will appear on screen either in the speaker's native language or in a different language via translation. Initially, the captions and subtitles will support more than 10 spoken languages and more than 60 text languages. The new feature will take its cue from the current PowerPoint Presentation Translator add-in, which will still be around. The captions and subtitles will be accessible for Office 365 subscribers using PowerPoint on Windows 10, PowerPoint for Mac, and PowerPoint Online.

For Skype, live captions and subtitles are immediately available as a way to display text of the conversation. The subtitles will continuously update as the callers speak, and you can turn them on or off. For now, the subtitles will automatically scroll, but Microsoft said that a future update will let you view them in a side window so as not to obscure the screen. Over the next few weeks, Skype will be updated to support more than 20 languages and dialects. The live captions and subtitles are supported in Windows with Skype version 14, Android with Skype version 8, iOS, MacOS, and Linux.

Live captions and subtitles are part of Microsoft's ongoing effort to make its applications and services more inclusive, especially to those with certain disabilities. As another example, Microsoft is rolling out voice dictation to its Office Web apps to help people who have trouble typing on a keyboard. But the built-in translation skills for PowerPoint and Skype will also help those of us who need to communicate with people in different languages.

To use captions and subtitles in Skype, make a Skype video or audio call. After the call has started, press the + button and select the option to Turn subtitles on. To set captions and subtitles as the default for all Skype calls, click on your profile picture. Select Settings, then Calling, and then Call subtitles. Turn on the switch to Show subtitles for all voice and video calls.

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Takeaways

  1. Microsoft is adding live captions and subtitles to PowerPoint and Skype.
  2. The captions and subtitles will offer built-in translation for people who speak and understand different languages.

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Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books - "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time" and "Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn."