Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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People, transcripts, and money

I am annoyed when people with disabilities or organizations working in the disability and/or accessibility field produce work that isn’t accessible. I’ll even admit to feeling upset about it. This happens more often than one might think. And these problems aren’t new. 15 years ago, I wrote “Disability community? What disability community?” for the Ragged Edge magazine. I already was pointing out issues of how some people in one disability group treat people in other disability groups.

I’ve worked with a lot of people with disabilities over the last couple of decades. I have been lucky to be exposed to a wide variety of access needs. Not everyone has had that kind of exposure or have developed the kind of awareness I build over time.

Basic accessibility concept

Yet, there are some basic elements that should be common knowledge. For instance, if you produce audio and you don’t offer transcripts, chances are you’re excluding people who are D/deaf or hard-of-hearing. Most people could be forgiven for not being aware of the benefits of transcripts for other people than folks who can’t process audio. At its core, I suspect almost everyone understands that without an alternative to audio, you cut out people who are D/deaf.

I recently queried this lack of transcripts with a podcast that specialises in accessibility in tech, and also with a media company that targets disability issues. While I’ll name them here, I am not pointing a specific finger at them – they are simply examples of a wider problem.

Podcast about accessibility in tech

Accessible Podcast is a relatively young podcast about accessibility in tech. They do not provide transcripts. And there are multiple accessibility issues with their podcast’s website. As Julia Ferraioli said in Slack, That’s especially infuriating.

When queried about transcripts, they said that they’d love to provide them, but that they are too expensive to produce.

I know about how expensive transcripts are – I, myself, have literally paid thousands of dollars to transcription services to systematically provide transcripts with each episode of The A11y Rules Podcast. And when I couldn’t afford to pay for transcripts, I took the time to create my own transcripts.

Yes, transcripts are expensive. But if you’re talking about accessibility in tech on a podcast, at a very minimum, you ought to provide transcripts.

Media company

I became aware of another transcript-less podcast: That of AMI-audio. Although they don’t primarily offer a podcast – they offer their live show as podcast episodes if you can’t listen “live”. They describe themselves as an accessible television channel and streaming service offering a variety of compelling stories and engaging original content to Canadians who are blind, partially sighted or otherwise print restricted.

They do offer on-demand transcripts. That is, if there’s a specific show you’re interested in, you can ask for a transcript. I’m not sure how long it takes to get a transcript after you’ve requested one though. And as Julianna Rowsell said on twitter, Accessibility needs spontaneous access to services and resources that everyone else can access spontaneously

I broached the issue with someone I know who works at AMI-Audio. I was told that they are a nonprofit organization with severe funding constraints. I was also told that they face logistical challenges since they provide 5 hours of live programming daily. To get everything transcribed is not just costly but logistically challenging.

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that because their main target audience is people who are blind, partially sighted, or otherwise print restricted, there is reduced emphasis on providing accessible content to other disability groups. But I’ll steer away from that conclusion and take “costs and logistical issues” at face value.

Money before people

Am I critiquing either Accessible Podcast or AMI-Audio for not systematically providing transcripts with each newly published podcast? No. I understand the constraints. Let’s face it: Most nonprofits and most individuals don’t have a lot of spare funds. Getting transcriptions done can be costly, and can take time, especially if you have large volume of shows.

Yet… Yet, I can’t help feeling that this becomes an issue of money before people. Or that information about accessibility is important for some people, but not for others. I don’t need transcripts myself, though I often prefer to read something rather than listen to it. But I’m upset for all those who do need access and can’t get it.

No easy solution

I don’t have easy suggestions or solutions for either Accessible Podcast or AMI-audio, or any other podcast out there that doesn’t systematically provide transcripts. I acknowledge the issues. Still, I urge all transcript-less podcasts to do better. Because so many people with disabilities are tired of feeling excluded. Because people matter more than money.

As a Maori proverb says:

He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

(What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.)