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Section 508 Compliant Podcasting November 21, 2006

Posted by Jeff in Podcast Accessibility, Podcast Captioning, Podcasting.

Section 508 – Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards – requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by that of employees and members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be placed on that agency to do so.

So, what does it have to do with podcasting?! Subpart A, or the”General” part of Section 508, list the purpose, application, exceptions, and definitions that set up the actual technical standards. In the definitions section there is a definition that infers podcasts need to comply:

Information technology includes computers, ancillary equipment, information kiosks, World Wide Web sites, etc… and they also list “multimedia.”

Multimedia can be used to describe many different things, but the next section of the document, Subpart B – Technical Standards of Section 508, is organized into six sections:

  • software applications and operating systems
  • web-based intranet and internet information and applications
  • telecommunications products
  • video and multimedia products
  • self contained, closed products
  • desktop and portable computers

In the web-based intranet and internet information and applications section:

  • Paragraph (a) requires that a text equivalent for every non-text element be provided on a web page. These non-text elements include photographs, images, and other multimedia files. I believe that audio and video files are considered multimedia.
  • Paragraph (b) says that equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation should be synchronized with the presentation. That would require, for example, an audio portion of a multimedia production be captioned (as required in paragraph (a)), but the captioning be synchronized with the audio. The bottom line being that an enhanced podcast (similar to a presentation) should be captioned on each picture or slide with the corresponding words of the audio file.
  • Paragraph (m) requires that web pages which provide proprietary files on their site such as Real Audio or a PDF also provide a link to a plug-in that will allow the user to get the file. The implications here are that you may need to link to an audio player and/or allow people to play your podcasts directly from your web page (which is just good practice anyway).

Now for the detailed video and multimedia productions section and captioning audio material:

  • Paragraph (c) requires the captioning of audio material in certain multimedia presentations. This statement takes the prior one and limits it slightly in that they only state that

All training and informational video and multimedia productions which support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contain speech or other audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be open or closed captioned.

  • What that says to me, in a university setting, is that a video of a student signing up for classes would not need to be captioned. If that video, though, then became part of a “How to Register for Your Course” video posting, it would have to be captioned and audio described.

Continuing with the detailed video and multimedia productions section and now providing an audio description:

  • On the opposite side of the accessibility spectrum, Paragraph (d) requires that certain multimedia presentations (again, using the definition above) provide an audio description of visual material:

All training and informational video and multimedia productions which support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contain visual information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be audio described.

  • So, again with the analogy in a university setting. If you have a news video where a student is sitting behind a desk speaking, the video does not contain visual information necessary for the comprehension of the content. However, if the video cuts away to a clip of video showing a student registering for class and the speaker is not narrating, it would have to be audio described.

Bottom line – certain podcasts meeting the agency mission criteria are under the multimedia file definition of the 508 standards and must be captioned or audio described depending on the format and content of the podcast.



1. Neil Fairbrother - November 22, 2006

Quite so. I believe we are the first TV company to offer all of our content with sign language versions. We’ve just launched our first two shows with British Sign Language, we have more BSL translations recorded and will be adding these to existing shows over the next few weeks and moving forwards we want to offer BSL, ASL and captioned (English) versions which we will do, subject to sponsorship.

All the best


2. Jeff - November 22, 2006

Well done. Keep up the good work. I like the site, your content, and the business idea. About singing BSL, I actually just sat down last night with an ASL translator who has learned BSL and is now living in Cornwall. She is looking to do more translation and as we talked I thought about her, instead of being on staff somewhere, setting up a studio in her home and receiving podcasts intermittantly; charging a per minute fee to video herself signing the content. Her video could then be placed into/onto the original video in a picture in picture layover style. I’m researching companies in her/your area that are doing that right now to see if there is a possiblity of getting more information.

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