Drumroll, please: I’ve just posted my first podcast. The topic of this five-minute audio is the growth of podcasting and the subsequent accessibility challenges faced by the hearing impaired. I’m hoping it’s the first in a series of podcasts from me on a variety of issues related to the Internet, the media and the digital divide, among other topics.
If you have a good Internet connection you can download the podcast; it’s just over five megabytes in size. Otherwise, a transcript of the podcast can be found below.
For those of you who want to subscribe to my future podcasts using software like iPodderX, please use my blog’s RSS feed.
Hi everyone, Andy Carvin here…. Welcome to the first official podcast for my blog, Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth. I’ll be posting occasional podcasts on a variety of issues. I don’t plan on having a single theme to this podcast; it won’t strictly be about the digital divide or Internet culture or travel or the media. There really aren’t rules for this; I’m just going to play it by ear and see where the muses lead me.
Today, though, I’d like to talk about podcasting. No, I don’t mean for this to be yet another podcast about podcasts. Instead, I want to talk specifically about podcasting and accessibility.
This past week on the Digital Divide Network email list there was a great discussion about the advent of podcasting and its potential as a tool for giving a voice to disenfranchised communities.
A few days into the conversation, Grant Laird of the Texas Deaf Network posted a brief response to the thread. He said,”Don’t forget that podcasting probably doesn’t support transcripts for the deaf community.”
My first reaction was, “That’s a fair point…. I’m more than happy to post transcripts of my podcasts.” For me, at least, that makes a lot of sense. But will other podcasters feel the same way? Unfortunately, I think the answer is generally no, I think many would argue that the whole notion of posting podcast transcripts actually runs counter to the ethos of podcasting.
A case in point: last month, Web accessibility activist Matt May posted a rather provocative essay in which he lamented that many pioneering podcasters are actually going out their way not to transcribe their podcasts. As evidence to this, he cited a statement by Steve Gillmor at the recent BloggerCon conference saying that he’d never post transcripts — and actually got applause out of it.
Posting transcripts, it seems, would defeat the whole purpose of podcasting: pushing the envelop of personal multimedia publishing. I mean, why bother spend all of this time trying to be a bleeding-edge Internet radio pioneer when you’d have to type up everything you’ve just said, just so that people who don’t even know what an iPod is can read what you had to say in the first place?
But Matt May, who works for the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, finds this position unacceptable. He writes:
What if a deaf user sees a topic that interests him or her, and wants to know what these subject-matter experts have to say about it? Should he or she go without simply because the moderator thinks it would disrupt the natural feel found in the panel’s voices?
Interestingly, not long after Matt posted his blog, Steve Gillmor posted a response:
I have to admit I was not thinking about accessibility in relation to the subject of transcripts. Of course it makes sense in that context, and I appreciate your perception that the Gillmor Gang material is worthy of that additional effort…. As the network grows and technologies for auto-transcriptions become affordable without the cost of training that holds back current technology, the accessibility problem will be overcome.
These comments by Matt and Grant and Steve are probably the first round of what may be a rather contentious battle between podcasters and accessibility activists. Just as we’ve seen fights over the accessibility of websites and streaming media, it’s no surprise that podcasting has opened a new theatre of operations in this battle. But fortunately podcasters like Steve Gillmor are now thinking about accessibility, and are open to addressing these concerns. Will others take notice? I imagine many won’t, but I’m sure the accessibility community won’t sit on their hands either.
So Matt’s absolutely right when he says that the deaf community shouldn’t be forced to “go without” simply because podcast producers have better things to do than cater to the disabled. I mean, so what if podcasting wasn’t invented to target the disabled community? Isn’t it absolutely reasonable to assume that many podcasts will contain insightful and entertaining commentary that would be just as interesting to a deaf person as it would be to anyone else?
Granted, transcripts in themselves will never convey all the nuances of the human voice and spoken interaction, but that’s hardly the point. Podcasting has enormous potential as a tool for independent media, civic journalism, education and other purposes, and it’s just a matter of time before we see millions of podcasts being produced, from the biggest media conglomerates all the way down to some kid in her bedroom with a story she wants to tell the world.
Of course, life will be a lot easier when voice recognition tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking get better at transcribing everyday banter rather than dictation. Someday we’ll get there, I’m sure, but don’t expect it overnight.
So is it too much to ask podcasters to offer a transcript of their audio? Even a detailed summary is better than nothing. Otherwise, podcasting will be yet another media juggernaut that will zoom by the lives of millions of people without giving any of them a chance to benefit from it as well.
And who knows; maybe someone who uses speech-recognition software to communicate to the outside world needs to start their own podcast as well. Wouldn’t that send a powerful message?
Maybe we should all just email Stephen Hawking and see if he wants to be the first.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Until next time, thanks for listening to my Waste of Bandwidth….
(Note: open/closing music courtesy of Subatomic Glue, used under the rules of their Creative Commons license.)