As someone who cares a lot about accessibility having got my start working on the BBC Ouch Disability blog and subsequently on a number of web content publishing sites, there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had a conversation like this:
“I think we really should be subtitling our videos for deaf users”
“Yes, that’s a great idea and really something we should be doing BUT…”
Those ‘buts’ include
- Technical issues: having a video player that can render subtitles and having tools to be able to produce them.
- Cost issues: professionally produced subtitles are not free and in an online world where publishers don’t have the same obligations as on TV, those costs have to be weighed against other priorities
- Timeliness; particularly for news content; subtitles that go live a day after publication aren’t going to cut it for stories with a shorter lifespan
Let me be clear I’m absolutely not trying to castigate publishers or on the other hand to absolve them for inaction but just to lay out some of the considerations that they face.
However, in the last year or so I’ve noticed a real change with subtitles popping up in unexpected places and I haven’t had to look very far, in fact, you just have to open your favourite social media app to see it.The catalyst for this change hasn’t been some magical resolution of the buts I just described, rather it’s the introduction of silent auto-playing videos on Facebook and other social media sites.
Suddenly the tables have turned! When most people experience partial deafness, subtitles become a no-brainer for publishers! No longer an accessibility afterthought they are now the crucial hook to gain the user’s interest as they scroll through their feed.
The style has changed too. Where often TV news reports contain a voiceover accompanied by some vaguely related stock footage. On social media you get a graphics and text lead video with some vaguely related stock music.
And whilst these videos weren’t designed specifically with deaf users in mind suddenly they can be part of those conversations.
And this flipping of the script is not a unique case, taking a ‘universal design’ approach can suddenly put disabled users on a par with their peers. Another recent example being the Amazon Echo device, which is operated solely via voice, making it equally accessible to blind and sighted users alike.
So what’s next? Whilst YouTube’s Auto Generated captions leave much to be desired, I do believe some combination of automatic speech-to-text, along with crowdsourcing and manual curation will greatly speed up the current (largely manual) subtitling and transcription process, indeed start-ups like Amara and Trint are working towards this, trying make more of the web accessible to all.
I would love to hear if you have benefited from the rise of captioned videos on social media!
Gideon is facilitating the session ‘Insert Caption Here’: how Facebook made video captioning cool at the SRCCON 2016 conference on July 28th/29th in Portland, Oregon
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
Please note that the views of the writers are their own, and not necessarily the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here.
- Phonak: innovative technology and products in hearing acoustics
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Check out these captioning fails!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Clarion: BSL/English interpreting and employment services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- Signature: Find out about the Signature conference here.
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Hearing Direct: Online hearing aids
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Deaf Independent: Deaf care and support services
- Signworld: online BSL learning and teaching materials
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- DCAL: Find out how to study at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, London
- cSeeker: Deaf-led educational communication support service
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- Sarah Gatford: BSL interpreting, training and consultancy
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- Sign Solutions:, language and learning
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- deafPLUS: Money advice line in BSL
- Happy: Microsoft Office courses taught in BSL and SSE by a Deaf trainer – all abilities catered for
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Ozen: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children