Who are we excluding?

Andrea here, while our beloved blogmistress Elsa is off conquering Vegas.  I thought about turning the blog into a showcase of the worst cat macros I could find, but decided in the end to use my powers for good.  That being the case, here is some actual content.

Recently, I’ve seen an increased trend towards bloggers I follow doing podcasts and videos.  It always makes me sad.  Often the introduction of the podcast or video to the blogger’s repertoire is heralded with loving squee over the possibilities the new medium offers.[1]  Podcasts, for instance, can be handy for letting your followers commune with you during things like commutes when reading things on the internet doesn’t work out so well — long drives come to mind, as do subway systems where even smart phones fear to tread. Videos let your audience see you, and since most humans are eyeball-dependent they can give viewers a greater grasp of nuance than text in an easier format for the blogger.  No more worrying about whether or not your wording conveys sarcasm when you can just raise an eyebrow!

What I never see amid all the squee is a discussion of who these formats leave out given that most people who do podcasts or videos do not transcript them.  I find this troubling, especially as more and more discussions take place in these mediums, because it automatically excludes voices from our discussions for really no good reason.  Sure, yay, spangly new technology, but too many people seem to skip merrily down the path of spangly new technology with never a consideration for what the use of that technology means.  And in their discussions of the many advantages of podcasting and vlogging, I’ve heard pretty much no one list as one of the cons “Deaf people will not be welcome to engage with us here, because we’ve selected a medium they cannot access and we will not take any steps to make our work accessible to them.”

And yet, when you post a podcast with no transcript, you might as well slap that sentence on the post as well.  People with auditory processing disorders?  No longer welcome in your space.  Deaf/HoH people?  No longer welcome in your space. Rural users with slow, unreliable connections and very limited bandwidth? No longer welcome in your space.  People accessing computers in public spaces like libraries, where downloading a podcast or watching a video may not be an option? No longer welcome in your space.  When you post a video or a podcast without transcript, you are telling all of these people that they are not worth engaging with and you are not interested in the perspectives they can bring to discussion.

Somehow, none of the bloggers who decide to get excitable and spice things up with a video or a podcast have ever actually been honest about what their selection of this medium means.  The most charitable interpretation is that they’re just utterly thoughtless and assume everyone receives and process information the same way they do, and for that matter has the same access to the internet that they do.  Or, hey, maybe the only audience they want to talk to is the middle-class urban non-disabled segment of the population, in which case, knock yourselves out.  But <em>be honest</em> about what you’re doing when you do that.

I realize that transcripting is time-consuming. When it comes to people who are discussing progressive and social justice issues, though, I just. do. not. care. Someone who calls herself a feminist shouldn’t be excluding women on the basis of disability and class, and yet without transcripts, that is exactly what she is doing.  And no, YouTube auto-subtitles are not an option.  For an illustration of why this is so, visit this Atlantic article.  There you will find the text of Paul Harvey’s horrifyingly saccharine “God Made a Farmer” speech, and at the bottom of the page, the Dodge Ram ad that used it.  Read the speech.  Then go turn on the subtitles for the ad, provided by YouTube’s autocaptioning service.  I laughed so hard at the captions on that ad my husband thought I was going to suffocate.

…I seem to have digressed. But you have to admit that “I need someone to shake a maximum total persimmon sprout” is a pretty radical declaration to attribute to the Almighty, and a graphic demonstration of why you should not trust your work to YouTube’s autocaptions.

The point here, gentle readers, is honesty.  Be honest with yourself and with your readers.  If you leap merrily aboard the spangly new technology wagon, then acknowledge to yourself and your audience that you are excluding people.  Don’t make excuses.  Just say “I”ve chosen to start doing podcasts/videos and will not be posting transcripts for them.  I realize I’m excluding many people who cannot access this format because of disability, finances, or location, and I’m doing it anyway.  I look forward to hearing from those of you who have the same physical abilities, finances, and internet access I do.”  Don’t try to apologize.  If you really felt sorry about it, you wouldn’t choose an inaccessible format in the first place.

Don’t try to make excuses, either.  If you can’t put that statement up with your podcast or video without feeling the urge to recite a litany of excuses, that indicates you’re uncomfortable.  Good.  You should be.  Use it as an opportunity to examine why it’s more important for you to use spangly new technology than it is for you to make your work accessible to as many people as possible.





[1] Admittedly one benefit it offers is that people who cannot, for whatever reason, type can in fact still engage.  I am letting my fellow crips off the hook on this one, because voice transcription software is fucking awful unless you have big money to spend.  The rest of you, though, I’m looking at <em>you</em>.

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2 Responses

  1. Lizbeth_City
    Lizbeth_City May 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm | | Reply

    Hey: I know that auto captions on Youtube suck– but if we’re using video blogs for something, is personally captioning it (I believe I was using Caption Tube) an acceptable alternative? If not, where would the transcript for a Youtube video ideally go: The description below it, or on a separate page?

    1. Andrea
      Andrea June 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm | | Reply

      Captioning is helpful for people who are Deaf/HoH and have adequate bandwidth to watch videos online. To include the most people, though, a text transcript is still your best bet — it can be displayed by braille screenreaders, read by people with limited bandwidth, and helps out people who may have problems processing video because of the movement/noises.

      Personally, I like to stick the video and description right under the video. That way it’s not in the way of video-viewing folk, and can even be stuck below a cut (with appropriate cut text like “transcript below the cut”) to conserve front page space on sites that allow cuts.

Please comment politely with a regular pseudonym or real name.

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