Aim for the Stars: Pragmatism and Transcripts

By September 2nd, 2011

I was interviewed by Paul Boag for the Boagworld.com podcast that just went live (Season 2, episode 6, Aug 31, 2011). Paul asked me quite a few questions. In the resulting episode, he mentions that he felt a bit of pressure as I asked him some pretty blunt questions about his practice with providing audio transcripts for his podcast.

On June 22, 2011 I was fortunate to be interviewed by Paul Boag for Season 2 of the Boagworld podcast. I really must thank Paul for having me on the show and allowing me to talk with him. Yes, I did ask Paul to be on the show because I think its important that the Boagworld audience know as much as they can about accessibility. Actually, I believe that about all audiences.

We talked about several topics in the interview, but there is one that I simply must discuss a little further: Audio transcription. It was the topic of about the first 15 minutes or so of the interview. You can hear the podcast on the Boagworld site: Boagworld Podcast Season 2, episode 6.

We’ve also provided a well-formatted and cleaned up version of the transcript of the podcast that tracks speaker names so that you can follow the conversation a bit better.

Let me highlight a few key components of my discussion with Paul regarding audio transcription.

Format

We often think of a text transcript of an audio file as an alternative format. Please remember that for someone that can’t hear, the text transcript is the primary format. We simply can’t forget that. People rely on the transcripts of our audio content as it’s the only way they can consume it.

Who decides?

In the interview Paul says that he normally posts an accompanying blog post that doesn’t include all the back and forth between he and Marcus, the other host of the podcast, and that the blog post is actually “better” than a transcript. In the interview, I suggested to Paul that the back and forth banter helps show what the relationship between Paul and Marcus is like. Someone that can’t hear, might be interested in that too. They also might not be. (You could actually argue that maybe nobody is interested in that and it should be edited out of the audio version, too, but the Boagworld audience has been split roughly 50-50 on whether or not the banter should be part of the podcast).

The question is, who gets to decide what’s important to the person that is reading instead of listening? That should be the user that decides. If you publish it for someone in audio format, publish the same thing in text format.

Scheduling

Paul suggests that if you record audio and wait to get it transcribed before you publish then it causes scheduling delays. There’s only a delay if you’re always running to catch up and things aren’t scheduled ahead of time. If you have a calendar, you can schedule release dates where the audio and transcript are released together. Schedule it ahead of time; it’s your job.

Finally, Pragmatism

Paul and Marcus mention a few times that you have to be pragmatic about accessibility. “How far do you go?” they ask. Paul says at one point in his discussion that “Derek was pushing me to do better than I was already doing.” Yes, yes I was. I’ll keep doing it, too, to anyone that I meet that is in this industry. To anyone that attends my conference talks and accessibility workshops.

How far do you go? “Pretty far” would be my response. We have to aim for the stars and set a very high standard.

While people may argue that pragmatism is about deciding what is “good enough” what they usually mean is that what they’ve done is “better than nothing.” There is a place for compromise. We do it all the time in our work. But it’s usually a compromise that means “less than optimal access” to the information that’s there, not “no access” at all.

Pragmatism includes planning. It includes budget. And it includes people with disabilities… as many as we can.

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