On Podcasts and Accessibility

Podcasts, vlogs, and streaming create a body of work I often have no real access to. PewDiePie produces stuff I’m told is funny and witty and charming. But I don’t really care about it because I can’t understand the commentary and comedy. John Gruber of Daring Fireball has had apparently fascinating conversations and interviews with Apple figures and other tech figures. For me, they’re meaningless except for what someone later writes as commentary on the discussions. Welcome to Night Vale is a great work of fiction. Serial is a fascinating work of investigation. I’ve never listened to them. These are just examples. All very cool, impressive stuff, often demanding a lot of work and craft and care.

The vast majority of it is inaccessible to me because I am hard of hearing.

I am bothered that a number of productions with sponsorships and real income and advertising dollars backing them don’t try at all. I am bothered that people do these things without seeming to consider what they’re locking away in the format or the audiences they’re excluding by making these choices. Sometimes it’s obvious they’re aware there is demand for accessibility options1, but have deliberately chosen not to provide transcripts or have determined YouTube’s auto-generated captions are “good enough”. They know these choices are inferior. Sometimes it’s clear they just haven’t considered accessibility concerns, and probably won’t ever get past just dismissing them. But they have the resources to provide better access and they’re choosing not to provide access.

I’m somewhat less bothered by fanwork stuff, because transcriptioning and captioning and other accessibility services are are not free2. And many of these fan things lack for financial resources to draw on. Sometimes it is important, in itself, for the thing to exist, even if it isn’t perfect or available to all. But they should consider what they’re locking behind that accessibility gap.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t do podcasts or vlogs or streams. I’m not saying they must must provide accessibility (although I’d certainly like it if accessibility were provided). But there are explicit and implicit choices involved. And people working in these mediums should consider the choices they’re making.

  1. For example, Welcome to Night Vale has a faq entry about transcripts making it clear they’re aware there’s demand, but they have no intention of satisfying it themselves. 
  2. Google shows rates ranging from $1.00 per minute and up depending on the service and type of material being transcribed and desired quality of the transcripts.