Transcribing for Inclusion

I made my first transcription today! Tom Johnson posted his videocast interview with Brenda Huettner from the STC Summit in Dallas last week. I was provoked. I've argued for ages that technical communicators can lead the way in promoting transcriptions and captions (and audio descriptions, too). Here was a technical communication video on the topic of (website) accessibility, and it excluded my hard-of-hearing technical communicator friends and colleagues. It also excluded any hard-of-hearing or deaf passer-by. Update: A close-captioned version of the video is now available on YouTube.

Why Did I Make a Transcription

Tom is well-known in the technical communication community, and I've nudged him about transcribing his many videocasts on his blog. (I'm referred to in the interview, but not by name!) With that visibility, he could be a great ambassador for accessibility practices. He responded by saying I could offer to transcribe his videos. My thought was that all his followers could offer to do just one transcription each. That would spread the load and get the job done. I am too involved in too many projects already, so I honestly couldn't manage a lot of transcriptions. Catch-22. However, Brenda is a friend, another advocate of accessibility practices soon to give birth to a book on the topic, and a perfect subject for a transcription. I transcribed the video!

How Did I Make the Transcription?

It took me 35 minutes to just transcribe the 6 minutes and 51 seconds, and I don't think I am a super (fast) typist. I had two windows open. One was the browser with the video and the other was TextEdit (simple text editor on Mac). My procedure was to play a snippet of the video, press the spacebar on my keyboard to stop it, toggle to TextEdit and type the text I had heard, toggle back to the browser with the video, and press spacebar to start it again. Repeat until finished! I only fixed major fumble-finger typos as I transcribed. I left simple typos for the review pass-through. When i finished the transcription process, I still had the text and video windows side by side. I played the entire video and read my transcript while listening, making edits as I went along (and stopping the video while I did that). I didn't time my editing phase very well - both the re-listen/review and general editing - but it was definitely under 15 minutes. Perhaps I could complete this step more quickly if I used a fancier authoring tool. I was also a bit conscious of the time because I was doing this as a demo of the entire process. I also debated (with myself) how much fixing to do. I wanted to capture the informal tone of the interview, so I left grammar oddities as they were. That threw me with regard to punctuation. I added where a long stream of words might just be a bit much to understand. In other words, I spent some extra time on thinking about a strategy. Another time, I could speed things up, having thought this through. Summary: 50 minutes for almost 7 minutes. 7 minutes typing for 1 minute talking? I know an experienced or a speedy typist could do better. I also know I could take this script and upload it to the YouTube system for captioning. That can be another lesson for another day.

The Transcript of the Brenda Huettner Interview at STC10

In the transcript, TJ stands for Tom Johnson and BH stands for Brenda Huettner. TJ: Hi, this is Tom Johnson at We are at the STC Summit in Dallas, Texas, and I'm talking with Brenda Huettner. She's working on a book if you listened to the other podcast with Dick Hamilton, she's working on a book called "Communicating with Everyone". So she's really an accessibility guru and I am hoping that Brenda can give me some real practical advice for how I can make my website more accessible. I have written text in the form of posts, I have audio podcasts, I have videocasts, I have images. So Brenda let's start with the videocasts. What can I do to make them more accessible to people? BH: I would suggest the first thing to look at is providing a written transcript for people who can't hear. It's a little bit easier than doing captions on the video, but as long as there's a text version then deaf people can still get your content. TJ: So now actually somebody from the Accessibility SIG recommended that I do this as well and YouTube has come out with captioning which might work but in my attempts to use it, it was kind of a little off. Actually a lot off. Ha ha. How do… how do… I imagine a common objection is that people just don't have time to create these transcripts. What's your response to that? BH: Essentially I would say that if you're taking the time to create the content, the video, or whatever you're creating, you are limiting your audience by not providing access to everyone. And if you are happy with half the audience you might otherwise have, that's certainly up to you if it's not a, if it's a site that doesn't come under Federal regulation, but why would you want to limit your output? You're putting it out there to share with all of us. Let's share fully. TJ: OK. So usually when people think oh making your site accessible, when they think about accessibility, they often think oh, there's not that many deaf readers or not that many blind readers, but I was sitting at the table with the other people from Google today, a whole string of them, and they told me that once you do machine transcription of YouTube videos you can then translate them 'cause they have auto-translation as well. So there I can begin to see where yeah that's a lot of people, everybody who doesn't speak English basically who I'm excluding, but the transcription I'm guessing is gonna be kind of poor. Do you think a poor transcription is better than no transcription? BH: I suspect that you're gonna get a different answer to that one from everyone you ask but I would rather see a poor transcription than none. It's sort of like if I'm working and I suddenly get a piece of text I need in a language I'm not that familiar with but I really want to know what it is, I can go to one of the inexpensive online free translations and I get close enough so that I can determine if I need to pursue it further. A transcription of any kind will at least give people the idea of what your content is if they want to then pursue other mechanisms. There are automated uh screen reader or what have you that might give them more options. TJ: So talking about transcription let's move into the written text part. BH: OK. TJ: So my text on my site isn't that large. I think it's 12 pixels or something. What's a good size font for improving readability? BH: I would say that you don't want to set a head font. You want to allow the viewer your audience to make the font whatever is comfortable for them. So you use relative sizes and you allow the people to use their own software to make it as big as they need to make it. Different people will have different needs. TJ: So when you say use relative sizes are you saying rather than using font size equals 12 px you use like 1.1 dot em. Is it em versus the px? BH: It's typically if you say it's plus one which means one bigger than default or plus three if it's a heading. TJ: So is it better to just put, I've seen the font plus and minus buttons on sites but it seems like that requires more work from the reader. Why not just put it in 14pt font. That's a little bigger. 14. Anyway, a little bigger or do you think it's just better to add the control or do both? BH: I would say allow your users to change it to however is going to work for them. Different people will have different needs and someone who can read a 14 would be happy with that, but somebody else might need an 18 and you're not going to be able to set one number that works for everybody. So let them choose. TJ: So let's talk about one last thing. Images. BH: OK. TJ: People who don't read images or don't see images well would probably need alt text but uh are there any other advantages to doing alt text besides improving readability? I've heard that it increases your SEO your search engine optimization as well? BH: That's true. The alt tag becomes part of what your search engines can find. The problem is that if you're just using alt tags for SEO, you're not describing the photo enough for the people for whom it ought to be why you're giving the alt tag. You want your graphics to be very descriptive. The other thing I'd like to add about graphics is to be really careful of colorblind, red and green and there are several others, 'cause that does throw people off who might not otherwise even complain about it. They just look and see a grey square. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks. If people want to know more about you, do you have a website you want to point them to? BH: Actually I would love it if people looked at my Twitter page. I'm at and that's my primary output at this time. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks for talking with me. BH: Thanks, Tom. End of transcript.

One comment

  1. Tom Johnson

    Karen, thanks for taking initiative with this transcription and for nudging me in this direction. I enjoyed reading about your transcription process. This is an area I know I need to learn more about. Even at 1 hour of transcription work, that’s still 15 hours of transcribing (with 15 videos). So yes, if the interviewees and others want to transcribe, that would be helpful.

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