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Interviewed on Web Axe Podcast November 25, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Interviewing, Jeff Frey, Podcast Captioning, Podcast Transcription, Podcasting, Rice University.

I was recently asked by Dennis Lembree, the founder of web development company CheckEngine USA which specializes in web usability, standards, and accessibility, to be a guest on Web Axe: a podcast and blog featuring practical web design accessibility tips.

Podcast #59: Jeffrey Frey on Accessible Podcasts

Dennis speaks with Jeffrey Frey and discusses accessible podcasting, guidelines on audio/video web accessibility, and Jeff’s role at Rice University.

Jeff is the Web Services Manager for Enterprise Applications in the Information Technology Department at Rice University. He provides technology solutions for faculty, staff, and students on campus as well as teaches new technology courses at the School of Continuing Studies. He is available for podcasting consulting, is involved in the creation of podcasts for businesses and non-profits, and has owned a technical consulting company and an audio/video recording studio.

Download Web Axe Episode 59 (Jeffrey Frey on Accessible Podcasts)

Links from Jeffrey Frey’s Blog

Transcription and other related services


Section 508 Compliant Podcasting and Undue Burden November 22, 2006

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

In general, the purpose of section 508 is to build as much accessibility as is reasonably possible into general products developed, procured, maintained, or used by agencies. I received some email from my post yesterday about Section 508 Compliant Podcasts asking “What about undue burden?”

The actual wording of the text is… do all the accessibility things… “unless an undue burden would be placed on that agency to do so.”

Undue burden is defined as “significant difficulty or expense.” Though significant is relative, when it comes to podcasting, I believe we can break it down to the following:

To be 508 complaint, there are two main things you must do… certain podcasts meeting the agency mission criteria are under the multimedia file definition of the 508 standards and must be (1) captioned or (2) audio described depending on the format and content of the podcast.

Let’s start with (2) audio described. Laying a voice over track to video if you’re doing podcasting isn’t hard. This is something that you should be capable of and not a problem.

In contrast, (1) captioning is not in the typical suite of tools for a podcaster. So far, we have solved this issue with transcripts for audio podcasts, and there are companies that do this for you, or you can do your own transcription. Video podcasts require more time and effort. Though again, there are companies that will do captioning of video, it can sometimes be expensive to do so. Tools and software for closed captioning video are also fairly expensive and some podcatchers do not accept the file formats needed to caption the video.

I believe this is where undue burden can be applied. To the weekly podcaster who is podcasting as a hobby, closed captioning may be out of reach. I think you can safely say that undue burden is met at this point and you will provide a transcript of the audio with audio description to get as close to accessible as possible. For the company, university, or agency that is video podcasting, has a podcast meeting the agency mission criteria, and has the resources to open or close caption the video… I believe the law states that it needs to be captioned.

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.

Podcast Captioning November 2, 2006

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

Closed captioning podcasts, subtitling podcasts, captioned podcasts, or podcast subtitles are all ways of saying the same thing. Video podcast captioning is simply words added in some form or another to your podcast. These ideas don’t just have to be for video podcasts, here is the step by step process on captioning audio podcasts in iTunes: http://www.automaticsync.com/caption/podcaption.htm

For the rest of this post, I want to focus on video captioning. Yesterday I talked about transcription services and and how transcripts can be made for audio/video podcasts.

Also, to get a bit more background, see my post on Podcasting Accessibility where I go into why and how you would actually approach captioning your vodcast (overlay, silent film method, or extra text bar). Anyway you do it, adding words to your audio or video podcast is a good idea because:

  1. it makes your podcast accessible to the over one million deaf people in the United States, and over 28 million people that suffer from some sort of hearing loss
  2. it can be used as a tool for people learning English as a second language and those working to improve their literacy skills
  3. it can be viewed by people on their computer or mobile media device in places where the audio would be intrusive or they did not have or could not use headphones (i.e. @ work)

Examples of Closed Captioned Video

  • tecnocato closed captioned podcast – tecnocatos is Spanish for tech-addicts… here is a great example of someone using cutting edge technology and a bit of ingenuity to caption a podcast. Though their subtitles are a slight hack, and take some doing, it works very well. If you’re interested in doing subtitles like these, I found out that he uses Textation and he used LiveStage to create a QuickTime sprite that turns the captions on and off. If you have a copy of QuickTime Pro, you can extract the sprite and use it in your podcast.
  • A homemade closed captioning example – here’s an example of a simple captioning example being used for the right reasons.

Closed Captioning Software

  • http://www.cpcweb.com/Captioning/cap_splash.htm – not a bad captioning option… still a fairly manual process even though when you buy the product, it ‘feels’ like it will save a lot of time. Auto captioning is, from who I’ve talked to and what I’ve used, seems to be just as much work as having your podcast transcripted with time signatures, and putting the text into a quicktime text stream yourself.

Doing Your Own Captions

Closed Captioning and Subtitling Companies
I always like to suggest companies for those of you who have the ambition, but not the time. In this case, you’re also going to need cash… because it’s not cheap.

Thanks for the positive feedback on the posts this week. I will post a how to setup a self transcription studio setup tomorrow.

Accessible Podcasts October 30, 2006

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

Audio and video podcasts are not accessible to deaf (audio) or blind (video) individuals. Accessibility of emerging technologies is always an issue that I try to deal with early on in the process of rolling it out. Being at a diverse university, and it is highly important that all that my team does be usable and accessible. We set up a usability testing lab last year and incorporated accessibility testing equipment/software as well. We run our web sites and applications through rigorous testing, but what to do with podcasts?

There are a couple ways to go about making your podcasts more accessible. Podcast transcription services and closed captioning services are available. Podcasting accessibility not only opens up your podcast to individuals with disabilities, it allows consumers who like to receive their information in a different media type the opportunity to do so. I’m not saying that accessibility for the disabled is not a good enough reason to do some of the things I’m going to mention, but there are many other benefits that you have to consider.

Since this issue is so large, I’m going to dedicate this week to discussing it with you. If you have any questions surrounding the accessibility of podcasts, be it this week or in the future, email them to me. I’ll try to answer all the questions that I’ve received so far, as well as give you a run down of the services out there with my recommendations. I also will focus on a day on building your own transcription studio.

I haven’t given you any tips or help today… and I can’t leave without doing so…

If you would like to make your podcasts more accessible, there are three main groups of people to consider.

  1. Seeing impaired
  2. Hearing impaired
  3. Sight and Sound impaired (combo of 1 and 2)


  1. Podcast Transcription. Consider transcribing your podcast and posting a link during the podcast (if video or enhanced) or in the show notes for the podcast. – see my updated transcription post
    Problem? The complaint I’ve heard is that it doesn’t help the person that wants to subscribe. In this case, the best solution is to publish a blog of the transcription/show notes that individuals who would rather read your podcast can subscribe to.
  2. Podcast Captioning. Captions on the video of your podcast are not the easiest or least expensive thing to do, but it will solve the issue. As I stated before, it’s not just for the hearing impaired. I was at the gym today and saw an individual ‘watching’ his iPod with no headphones. – see my updated captioning post
    Problem? The complaint on this one is that the words are too small to read. I’ve seen captioned podcasts and I disagree. If it is a problem, consider pausing the video and inserting a slide of text, like an old silent film. You can publish the two versions of your podcast and people can choose which they’d like to hear/read.
  3. This is hard with podcasting. Minor sight and hearing issues can be taken care of with background noise, volume control, large text captioning like you could use on my silent film idea above, etc., but unless either 1 and 2 are ultimately transcribed to braille, the media will never truly be accessible to this subset of the population.

I hope this weeks helps you in making your podcasts more accessible.