In this installment, your host discusses ways to build an accessible world with your podcast with specific focus on:
Hi, I’m lisa Hooper, a librarian and Head of Media Services at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. This is Introduction to Podcasting, a series of short audio tutorials for those just getting started. Thanks for listening. In this installment we’re going to discuss a few tips for making an accessible podcast.
If you have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about your work, send a line to email@example.com. That’s l h o o p e r, the number 1, at Tulane dot e d u.
Ok. So accessibility, it’s important. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 Americans are living with one or more disabilities. 1 in 4.
So, you know, I'm a lefty and like all lefties I've grown accustomed to navigating a world designed by right-handed people for right-handed people. From simple things like writing over and around awkwardly placed metal spirals in spiral bound notebooks, becoming adept and using scissors in my right hand because, let’s face it, the lefty scissors they gave us in elementary school still worked better in your right hand, even to the direction our shirts button; us lefties get used to it, we change ourselves and adapt to this very right-handed world. The one place, though, where left-handedness triumphs and where I regularly gloat over it, is the drive-through ATM. Whenever I'm stuck in line at the ATM I watch all the people in the cars in front of me reach across with their right hand and struggle to reach the ATM buttons; they shift around awkwardly in their chair, unhook their seatbelts, sometimes even opening their car door to reach better. After a very long day I’ve been known to laugh somewhat maniacally when it’s my turn after watching so many struggles and I just reach my hand out and press the buttons with incredible ease and comfort. It’s pretty much the only thing probably designed by right-handed people that works well for us lefties. It’s a coincidence, I understand that. But, if you’re a right-handed person then you know what I'm talking about – the ATM was not designed for you and it is unnecessarily difficult to use. That’s all of what, 2 or 3 minutes of your life though?
Now imagine navigating a world that didn’t include you when it was being designed, every day all day. Rather than design a world that works well for most of us and ask others to adapt or just make do, let’s just normalize making things and building things and doing things that are accessible for everyone right from the very start, no adaptation, no assistance required. Why force people to ask for help; doesn’t feel good to anybody.
Anyways, you get my point. Give me a minute now so I can step off my soap box.
Ok, so you want to make an accessible podcast – great! There are a few, very fundamental things that you can do to make your podcast accessible.
First, talk clearly and project your voice. It seems obvious, we need to give a little extra care to our voice in order to be heard. This might include slowing down, talking a little louder than normal, maybe even giving a little extra attention to how we pronounce our t’s and s’s. Now, in another installment about finding your voice I talk a little bit about how important it is to use your authentic way of speaking. That’s still true, but mumbling is out. Not even a fully hearing person can decipher a mumble, never mind folks with partial hearing. If I were talk in a speaking voice that is most natural and most comfortable to me, then no one would be able hear me. I would sound, for example, like this: so, right now I'm talking at a volume level that is most comfortable, it’s very low, very flat, even people standing right next to have a hard time hearing me. And so, if I'm speaking face to face with someone, I'll put a little more air in my lungs, use a few more muscles to sustain the volume that will make me heard. Now. If I'm talking to a room full of students, those of you in the back will probably still have a hard time hearing me. So, again, I add more air, feel my diaphragm muscles supporting me, and talk as loud as I can without turning it into a shout. That is more or less, the volume I use for recording.
Let’s stick with hearing a little bit longer. Many, many people are affected by some level of hearing loss. Now, they might be able to hear fine when it’s just one voice, but as soon as more sounds, more voices get added in, it’s game over. It suddenly become a lot of extra work and sometimes impossible to separate out the different sounds and follow that one voice that they need to be listening to. This means two things for you – if you are doing an interview or panel discussion, then you need to be very clear with the people on the other side of the microphone that talking over each other is simply not an option. Now, I've heard this is a cultural thing, that people in some parts of the country find talking over very normal and socially acceptable, while in other parts of the country it’s incredibly rude to talk over somebody else. And so because of this variance in social norms, it’s doubly important that you stress and enforce a rule allowing people to finish their thought before the next person jumps in.
This will also come into play if you choose to use sound effects or decide to use music as underlays to heighten the emotion of what’s being said. Sound effects and music are all great tools for creating a soundscape that will engage your audiences, but they need to be used smartly and, like all things, with care. So for example, if you choose to put music underneath someone speaking, using it sparingly and be sure the music is subtle without massive tempo, pitch, and volume shifts, and make sure that the volume you set that music clip to is quite low so as not to interfere with the voice.
Now, some people have no problem hearing but instead really struggle with loud and sudden noises. In post-production editing, there are ways to normalize the audio so it all stays within a stable range. This will help. Being sensitive to the impact of your sound effects is also really important. And then finally, if you're using an audio clip that is absolutely pivotal to your discussion but you know it has sudden loud noises, then just let your audience know. Let them know before you play the clip so that they can then take precautions. It’s as simple as saying something like, ‘now, at this point I'm going to play a clip and I want to let you all know that some sounds are loud,’ and then just go ahead and play your clip.
Another really important tool for accessibility is the transcript. All audio and especially video should be accompanied by a transcript. So, put your script up on a website, but also consider making a PDF version available for downloading. When you’re creating your transcript, use headings wisely to help screen readers accurately portray the text on a page. Word and even Acrobat Adobe have tools built in to help check your documents for accessibility. Run those tools before you finalize your transcript just to be sure you caught everything; in the entire podcasting process, running an accessibility tool in your Word or PDF document is truly the easiest thing you can do.
And now at this point I hesitate to say that’s it, since I still have a lot to learn about building an accessible world and accessible an accessible podcast. That said, in the research I've done on this topic so far, these are the two game changing factors, and that is really, really easy to incorporate into our work.
So, that’s it for now. Thanks for listening and I'll catch you next time.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “Disability Impacts All of Us.” Accessed 3/31/2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html
Otter AI, https://otter.ai/. Note, free trial followed by subscription. While there are lots of other subscription services, this is the one that comes up most frequently when asking around. Note, read the license and privacy agreement before beginning.
YouTube.com. When you upload content to your YouTube channel, you have the option of allowing YouTube to caption your file. Proof reading is necessary!
Yuja. Yuja is a plug in that some users may have access to in Canvas. It will automatically create captions or you can upload your own.
Adobe Creative Cloud also includes a captioning service.
Microsoft. “Improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker.” Accessed 3/31/2022. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/improve-accessibility-with-the-accessibility-checker-a16f6de0-2f39-4a2b-8bd8-5ad801426c7f
Adobe. “Create and verify PDF accessibility (Acrobat Pro).” Accessed 3/31/2022. https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/create-verify-pdf-accessibility.html