The Quiet Musings

Content Denied

- April 17th, 2017 -

Losing my hearing has made me more aware of how inaccessible the world we live in is. From train announcement only being called out instead of also being displayed on screens, to movies without subtitles and YouTube auto captions still sucking in 2017. Humans have a hard time being inclusive of everyone. The world is built for hearing, seeing, talking and full mobility only. Let me not even start about people who avoid me because I’m deaf. Either because they don’t want to deal with adjusted communication or they just don’t know how to deal and don’t ask me for whatever reason.

More than 10 years ago weblogs and articles were the main source of content on the internet. I missed nothing. Back then I was severely hard of hearing but thanks to so many written content I thaught myself HTML, CSS, PHP and mySQL with no pain. I could read the latest TV show review or spoiler, breaking news, regular news, it was all written.

But as the years progressed, smartphones and tablets became mainstream. Everyone in the western (privileged) world is online 24/7. Which means our attention span have become less and less while the content available keeps growing everyday. People stopped writing and started making vlogs, videos and podcasts. I stopped following several weblogs and websites because most of their content is now only available in audio.

Humans have a hard time being inclusive of everyone. The world is built for hearing, seeing, talking and full mobility only.

Gone are the days that you could find lots of written content to learn the latest in (in my case) web development. It’s mostly video now a days with a few select developers who still write amazing content to learn from. Fortunately several videos have subtitles or transcripts. But as a deaf person, for me the best way is written content. With video’s you have to split focus on screen and text while trying to grasp and learn the material. You can imagine that with coding it is a bit harder than lets say a cooking instruction video.

Podcast and vlogging are so common now a days that even book reviews (book reviews!) aren’t written anymore but now you have booktube. I used to have a bookmarks folder full of book reviews weblogs. Most of those sites are dormant now.
Somehow I cannot compute why, why people who love reading, who love the written word. Only review those written words in video. Videos without subtitles.

People meaning well keep telling me that YouTube has auto caption. There is no eloquent way to put this. YouTube auto caption sucks. For being a Google product, a company that has whole departments full with engineers for each product. They still haven’t gotten speech to text even decently right. It’s easy to try for yourself. Mute the sound, turn on auto caption and use YouTube like that for a couple of days. Also, notice how happy you’ll be when the channel offers original subtitles for their videos.

I am glad that a group of front-end coders are now investing in inclusive design. Making websites accessible for everyone. It’s not easy. Not only do you have to work more precise and educate yourself about all kinds of people who use the internet. You have to educate the people providing content for the website you painstakingly coded to be usable for everyone.

It is an uphill battle, while a growing group of front-end coders are doing the good work. A giant like Facebook keeps pushing for video content as main content while doing nothing about captions or audio description. Netflix is leading by starting to add audio description and everything is subtitled. Although not in English.
Another misconception. Just because I live in The Netherlands does not mean I want subtitles in Dutch. I want them in English, especially if I’m watching a movie spoken in English.

There are many more examples of this imbalance. Technology keeps advancing but only a little is being done for inclusivity. Think about the new era of smart home, Amazon echo, etc. It’s mostly audio interface. What about we perfect speech to text and vice versa before we exclude even more people from daily experiences?

Obviously I am writing this from my personal deaf experience. But it counts for everyone. Improving inclusivity needs to be done and established as a standard on which we build everything. So far, this seems like a pipe dream.

Meanwhile I’m going to start a curated collection of podcasts, vlogs and YouTube channels that have transcripts or subtitles. It doesn’t have to be about web development only. A podcast about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a vlog about pens and notebooks, a YouTube channel about the greatness of avocados. You get the gist.

Send your suggestions at and I’ll add it to my links page.

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