This article was originally published on my other site here, but I wanted to share it with you here so that you can understand that I too face barriers when it comes to accessibility.
And in this case, it’s about using captions on videos but it’s not always taken seriously.
I’d love to know what you think in the comment section at the bottom of this page. For now, let’s get straight into it…
Disclaimer: This post is written by me, and it’s based on my opinion only. Don’t just assume that everyone in my situation feels the same. Ask them how they personally feel instead.
Being deaf/hard of hearing means there is certain information I struggle to access.
Since my business (and let’s face it, my personal life) revolves around being online, having the likes of accurate subtitles/captions and good quality audio is essential for me in order to be able to consume video/audio-based content.
Too many times I have had to cancel listening to a podcast or watching a video within seconds after starting because of terrible audio or lack of captions or transcripts.
And don’t even get me started with cinemas. I’ve wasted hundreds of pounds only to be left feeling frustrated due to the lack of captioned films being made available.
Hence why I don’t bother watching any more comic-book related movies, much to my disappointment:
The thing is, I’m like a sponge. I just want to soak up and learn as much as possible. I’m a huge believer of constantly learning in order to grow as a person and to grow my business.
Always Be Learning: it’s a motto that I swear by. It’s not something that should stop after you finish school or university.
But that learning experience can be a hugely frustrating one if what I want to learn is not accessible to me.
Getting involved with accessibility in WordPress
At a Contributor Day in Glasgow in September 2018 (an event where you get to contribute directly to WordPress, e.g. core software, theme support, privacy, translations, etc.), I have decided to get involved with the Accessibility team.
It makes sense for me to do that. But I’ve never really gotten involved with the team as I had my hands in other areas, such as the helping with the local WordPress meetup, organising WordCamp Edinburgh and creating tips about WordPress on this very site.
So this was my chance to contribute somewhere different and to learn more about this field.
But it’s not just about contributing for my own personal cause, as I have also seen demonstrations at various events of how a badly-built website can make life very difficult for those who are trying to access the information, like the visually impaired.
Accessibility is a huge topic and covers many areas, so on this occasion, I have decided to use my own personal experience to make it better for others.
One particular focus was on captioning the videos on WordPress.TV, where there are thousands of videos of talks from WordCamps across the globe.
I remember the struggle I had of trying to follow certain talks when watching them online, particularly those with poor audio quality, and it left me frustrated.
If the information is not accessible for me, then it’s not a website I will visit often, even though I would like to because it contains fantastic sources of information about WordPress and everything around it.
After digging more deeply into it, I wanted to find out how many videos were actually captioned, and I was shocked to find that, at the time, only 45 out of 1000s of videos are captioned.
When you’re trying to add captions (with limited budget) to @photomatt‘s and other speakers’ talks…and you’re nowhere near done 🤪
Only 45 out of 1000s of videos on @WordPressTV have close captions/subtitles.
Not good enough for someone like me who can’t access them 😓 pic.twitter.com/CNfF0t1E2U
— Ahmed Khalifa (@IamAhmedKhalifa) September 8, 2018
Now I should put my hand up. The videos of my own talks, which are uploaded on WordPress.tv, are not captioned either, so I’m not going to say that I have helped.
It comes out of my own pocket as I have it captioned manually by a human rather than by software.
And I even allocate budget to do the same for my deaf/hard of hearin blog whenever I create podcasts and videos.
Yeah, there are other benefits like for SEO and engagements, but in general, I believe that information should be accessible to everyone who wants access to it.
So back to that Contributor Day, I went ahead and started to create transcriptions for Matt Mullenweg’s (co-founder of WordPress) talk at WordCamp Europe 2018 in Belgrade.
Seeing as it is the featured video, and visible to everyone as soon as they land on it, plus it’s a talk by Matt himself, I figured that it would be an important video to add captions to.
But because it’s a long video (48 minutes), paying for transcriptions is out of a question. So I attempted to create my own captions using a variety of different tools.
That was a fun experience! [Sarcasm of course]
Many people have provided me with a number of different options to speed up the process, such as using Google’s voice technology in Google Doc or the artificial intelligence tools that can create transcripts in minutes, like Temi.
Don’t get me wrong, these tools are fantastic and do a pretty decent job of transcribing any audio and videos that you have.
But at the end of the day, it’s still a time-consuming process, particularly as creating captions also requires you to write it in specific formats if that’s not available:
And you just have to hope that the audio is clear enough for the tool to pick it up and write it down correctly, which doesn’t always happen.
With that in mind:
- If you have a transcript already created, you still have to format it correctly to include the timestamps plus checking its spelling and grammar.
- If you have the captions already created with timestamps included, you still have to manually listen and make sure that it’s correct, particularly if the captions were automated.
Unlike captions, if you just want to create transcripts, you do not have to worry about including the timestamp.
But you still need to make your content readable by creating the right content structure, checking the spelling and grammar, and also format it with sub-headings, bullet points, images if applicable, etc., to make it easier to read.
Basically, anything that will make the experience better for the users.
Because isn’t that the point of having an optimised website – to make it as pleasant of an experience as possible for your visitors.
Then why is it, when it comes to making that experience pleasant for those who have trouble accessing it, it is as seen as an added bonus rather than a necessity?
That disappointing tweet
When I tweeted about the whole situation during Contributor Day and tagged Matt, I wasn’t doing it to demand a response but it helped that many people got involved in the conversation.
And then Matt replied with a somewhat disappointing tweet:
The videos get so few viewers I don’t know if it’s a worthwhile area of focus. I’ve been asking to get them on YouTube for more than a year.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) September 9, 2018
[The fact that Matt has since deleted the tweet makes it even more disappointing. But here is a screenshot of it.]
You’d think Matt would appreciate the effort to add transcriptions to HIS keynote talk so that it would reach more people.
But I guess I was wrong.
Judging by that tweet, it seems the effort isn’t worthwhile because the audience isn’t large enough for his liking.
It’s funny, I didn’t think of it initially, mainly because I was so engrossed in trying to caption his talk and trying to come up with solutions, but after some time, I realised that it’s getting tiring to be pushed aside simply because I am trying to access information.
It’s as if I’m walking on a tightrope and trying to reach the other side. It’s a shaky experience, but you’re getting by, until someone shakes the rope, making it difficult to walk, and potentially fall.
But I can only thank the subsequent tweet from Gary Jones below (and those who ‘heart’ it), for not just highlighting the need to help the minority, however small that is, but also because it made me feel included again.
Because for that brief moment, there was that horrible feeling of being worthless.
The choice on whether to make something accessible or not, is not a popularity contest. Even if only ONE person needs it, it should be a focus.
— Gary Jones (@GaryJ) September 28, 2018
Many people like myself may be in the minority sector, but the commitment and work done by the A11y team (another way of saying Accessibility in numeronym format) makes it a less lonely place.
And I’m not just talking about within WordPress either, as there are many people outside WordPress who are just as valuable.
Knowing that there are people working so hard to make the online experience easy for as many people as possible is incredibly admirable.
And that’s worth celebrating.
My message to Matt Mullenweg
First of all, I respect you and what you have done over the years. It’s not just about WordPress, but I have read many articles, watched and listened to many of your interviews, and I have personally learned a lot from you.
But here is my advice to you: be part of the community, not against it.
To be honest, I was surprised by your tweet and it gave me the impression that it’s not an area of importance for you.
And that will mean that it’s not important enough for other people around you.
Is it any wonder there is such a divide about Gutenberg and how accessible it is?
I don’t know about you, but that’s not the general ethos of WordPress that I know of and love. Is it?
By all means, if I have read that tweet wrong and the context is actually something else, then go ahead and contact me to prove me wrong.
But isn’t the whole point of WordPress to democratize publishing and allow as many people as possible to have a voice online? Doesn’t it also allow as many people as possible to have access?
What’s the point of having a voice if it’s not reachable to those who need it.
So what happened after my attempt to caption that video?
Well, I couldn’t complete it.
Picture the scene: the video is 48 minutes long so the process of:
- listening (which is hard enough for me as it is)
- typing/correcting transcripts
- playing the video
- and repeat the process multiple times…
…is not exactly a quick job. And that’s without double-checking what you have written and re-listening the video.
So after several hours, it is not done.
But that’s okay, because it was a good lesson for me and it’s about finding other ways to make it work.
The problem is, the challenge is made even harder when you are told that “it’s not worth the effort”.
It doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop and be quiet about it.
Heck no…I’ve only just gotten started.
If this is something that you can relate to, I would love to hear from you by leaving a comment below and sharing your experience too.
Have I left anything out?
Am I being naive about the whole situation?
Is this a battle worth fighting?
Let me know either way. I would love to know your thoughts in the comment below.
*UPDATED* – 2nd November 2018
I did not realise that this post would have the impact that it did and connected with a lot of people. I have received a number of amazing comments, feedback and support.
But I also have received some backlash too, which is the price of speaking your mind on the internet.
Gary Jones has reached out to me to say that he has misinterpreted the tweet and to some extent, I have misinterpreted. But in my opinion, it’s an ambiguous tweet, which still leave things up in the air and I have some reservation as it doesn’t provide any assurance of the next step, if any.
On top of that, Matt has left a comment at the bottom of this post about what he meant:
My point was the captioning (and translation) tools on Youtube are much better, so if we get the videos on there and make that the primary embed it will be a lot more accessible to many people. Sorry that it wasn’t clear in the space of a tweet. You can always reach out to chat or clarify.
While I appreciate his reply, I have asked for more information because it’s not clear what’s the long-term plan and I’m uncertain whether there are any actionable plans. I still have concerns and reservations about this, but it’s without knowing any more.
So I have reached out to him for more info and I will update this post if I hear back.
Instead, he has deleted the tweet.
Nonetheless, I plan to do the following:
- Speak at more events on the topic of accessbility, particulary on how captions can benefit everyone, and not just for the d/Deaf and hard of hearing
- Discuss the opportunity to create a budget for captioning videos with WordCamp Central and WordCamp Foundation for speakers and organisers
- Make people aware that the auto-captioning technology is NOT a solution
- Keep creating content on my deaf website, which will educate everyone about the deaf culture, including the benefits of captions/subtitles (which, by the way, explains that it’s NOT just beneficial for the d/Deaf and hard of hearing)
- Already in the middle of helping a few WordPress meetup groups to spread the message about captions and how it is beneficial as well as a necessity for many people
- Discuss with the Marketing, Accessibility and WPTV teams about the next step for all the videos and how to make them more accessible to more people
So as you can see, I’ve got my work cut out but I hope you can join me too.