The Podcast Transcript Experimentation

I never saw myself as a teacher of any kind. But I do love to educate people about accessibility and inclusiveness. The more I immersed myself in the accessibility subject the more I noticed that many people think or focus on digital accessibility in relation to people with a visible disability. Mostly blind people and thus accessibility for screen readers.

From there grew my personal mission to teach people about Inclusive Design. That accessibility is so much more than just screen readers, color contrast, and ARIA labels.

In recent years, I have given guest lectures to students a couple of times about Inclusive Design and spoken at congresses and meetups. And most recently I have coached Communication & Multimedia Design students.

When Vasilis van Gemert asked me if I wanted to coach a group of students of his minor Web Development course: Human-Centered Design. I readily agreed. Vasilis is a lecturer at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences teaching the next generation of designers. His focus is on Exclusive Design

Human Centered Design is a method for designing user-friendly interactive applications. By regularly testing with your target group you will arrive at a better and suitable design. 

To Impart and to Gain Knowledge

The great thing about working with Communication and Multimedia Design students is that you are contributing to the next generation developers and designers to be more conscious of inclusive design or in this particular case; Exclusive Design. 

In return, I also learn a lot. They ask thoughtful questions. Questions that give me insights into what goes on in many people’s minds related to disabilities and design. It helps me understand others better. They come up with solutions I haven’t thought about and together with my feedback create awesome prototypes that I wish were already industry standard. 

Their willingness to think outside the box and come up with accessible solutions is in stark contrast with companies/developers/content makers that see accessibility as a last-minute addition. 

Human-Centered Design

it doesn’t assume every deaf person is the same and has the same needs

The minor Web Development class I coached was tasked with creating podcast transcripts designed specifically for me, in line with Vasilis Exclusive Design methodology. Some students opted for a closed caption use case while the rest opted for the transcript use case. You can view several of the projects from the course Human-Centered Design on their GitHub page. It’s a mix of Dutch and English content.

The great thing about Exclusive Design to me is that it doesn’t assume every deaf person is the same and has the same needs. Whereas with Inclusive Design the methodology is to design for the needs of many. 

Like everything else, each methodology has its merits. For this blog, I’ll be focussing on the transcript use cases.

The Podcast Transcript Experimentation

If the pandemic was good for one thing it was for the podcast market. Even before that, podcasts were already on the rise but they really boomed during the first months of lockdown. As a deaf person, almost all of these podcasts are inaccessible to me because they don’t have transcripts or I have to wait weeks before they are available. 

Just like with everything else requiring accessibility, the most common given reason it’s lacking: there is no money for it.

But it’s not that there isn’t money, there are just different priorities. Podcast makers aren’t getting rich, but the budget they have will all go into jingles, logo design, website design, hardware, etc. And accessibility is the afterthought that gets scrapped from the list. And if they manage to produce transcripts, it’s often a PDF or Words file with no formatting for easy reading.

Most transcripts read like an edited chat log and at the end if lucky you’ll get the notes of books, websites, recipes, etc. mentioned.

Enter the students with their project for Human Centered Design and positively surprising me with their ideas. For them, it was an extra challenge to use the Exclusive Design methodology as I am focused on Inclusive Design. So that added a bit more to the challenge for them. I know what I like/want due to years of experience. I have been using captions since the early days of broadband internet and of course on TV before that. I became deaf before podcasts became a thing.

I know what doesn’t work for me. But I love seeing something new I haven’t seen before. The students surprised me with ideas I haven’t thought of myself and just by answering questions and talking with them, I came up with ideas on the spot. It was a mutual back and forth exchange of ideas.

The result was nice designed transcripts, added animations to keep you engaged so it doesn’t feel like you are reading a flat text file. Interactivity such as adding links, books, and everything mentioned in the podcast. Some went even further and made equalizers, talking avatar heads, and something named timed transcript. Which is basically the transcript text but with a subtle animation such as a text highlight moving along in sync with the podcast audio.

Examples (most in Dutch):

And those are just a few of the awesome things the students came up with.

Now of course this level of design is out of reach for many podcast makers. But it does show the huge gap between not providing transcripts at all or transcripts in a PDF/Words file to transcripts on a webpage with a nice easy to read design.

In Conclusion

It was a great experience doing this. I hope other universities are also offering courses that deep dive in designing for disabled people together with disabled people. For disabled people being able to use the internet, we are completely dependable on websites and apps being accessible. Otherwise, it is impossible.

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