Transcription: Web Axe Episode 59 (Jeffrey Frey on Accessible Podcasts)

Dennis: Hello and welcome to Web Axe Podcast number 59. Jeffrey Frey on Accessible Podcasts. This is your host Dennis. Welcome back to Web Axe, and if you're a new listener, welcome.          

Before we get into the conversation with Jeff Frey, I want to give a shout-out to Tom Brinck. He's a casual acquaintance back from Michigan, and I got an email from him last week which is really neat. And he mentioned a few things that I wanted to pass along. The first thing was about the Richter Scale. Last podcast, Ross and I, the Richter Scale came up because we were talking about earthquakes and The medium-sized earthquake that we had here in the Bay Area. And tom writes "The severity of 5 is out of a theoretical 10. Like the Decibel Scale, the Richter Scale is exponential (i.e. a severity 6 quake is 10 times larger than severity 5." So there you have it. If you wanna learn more, there's a link in this podcast blog post.

Another thing I found out about Tom is that he co-authored a book called "Cost-Justifying Usability". And he actually does the chapter on accessibility. So it seems like a pretty cool book. There's also a link to that on the podcast blog post so check it out. It's called "Cost Justifying Usability". So thanks again Tom for writing in, and it's some very interesting stuff.            

Okay, so let's start our conversation with Jeff Frey from Rice University. He is the Web Services Manager in the IT department there. I came across his name on the Internet because he had several excellent posts about podcasts and Section 508, and audio and podcast accessibility and stuff, so I thought I'd invite him on the show. Okay, without further ado, here it is.

Dennis: Okay, so we have Jeffrey Frey on the line from Rice University. He is Web Services Manager which is part of the Information Technology Department at Rice University. He provides technical solutions for faculty staff and students on campus as well as teaching new technology courses at the School of Continuing Studies. Hello Jeff.

Jeff: Hey there.

Dennis: Glad to have you on the show.

Jeff: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Dennis: Let's see. A little bit more of an intro. Correct me if I'm wrong but I guess you kind of specialize on audio, video, and podcasting, and podcasts for businesses and stuff.

Jeff: Yeah. I think, at this point, for the school, any faculty staff or student can call me up and say "I need you to do this", whatever it is. So it's kind of interesting. But I'd say the main hobby that I have right now is audio and video recording. That's probably the largest side project that I have completely in the course that experience is into Rice University as well.

Dennis: Great. Yeah, I guess audio and video is getting much bigger on the Web now and more popular, I guess, for lack of a better word.

Jeff: Yeah, very much so.

Dennis: And which makes it even more important to make that content accessible.

Jeff: Oh absolutely.

Dennis: First things first. What's your background?

Jeff: First, as it relates to podcasting, I grew up doing a lot of singing and songwriting and playing instruments and such, so I kind of wanted to record myself doing all that. And I found a few others that wanted to do the same. I was able to purchase enough equipment to start a small business and actually coin myself a recording studio. Everything was in SKB racks and portable and things, but we called myself a recording studio anyway and got some clients. And I've since given that up but been able to keep most of the equipment as well. It's kind of like I'd sell a lot of it, keep rotating new equipment in and out, as new technology comes up, I'll purchase it. And so that's kind of the audio-video side, and that was and still is now actually a hobby. I have a Bachelor's       , and Master's Degree in Computer Science, and right out of college, I started programming for the Web, a series of promotions and a pretty big transition from corporate world into education a few years ago lands me here at Rice as the Web Services Manager.

Dennis: Okay, so what do you do specifically as a Web Services Manager?

Jeff: The Web Services, the department as its name implies, it does websites. The bulk of the work is the websites here at Rice University. But I'd say a good percentage of what we do is application development and databases as well. I oversee the project portfolio and the client relations, but the most rewarding part is concepting with the clients, working out processes with them, and kind of working on the creative aspects of their projects, when I get a cool audio or video project in. And I get to use some of the programming and the application architecture background that I have as well. So it's a pretty interesting job.

Dennis: Yeah, sounds cool. Do you have a mandate to make the sites accessible or does Rice have a policy for web accessibility?

Jeff: That's an interesting question. That's a Yes and a No answer. But I can explain that. One thing I probably should've mentioned was Web Services is cost-recovered. So I actually charge the clients for the work that we do. That really comes out of each department, school, and institute, having their own budget to do with what they like. What that means is there's no university-wide content management system, no oversight on websites and applications and things. So in this case, as far as a web policy, there's no monitoring of things like accessible websites or podcasts or anything like that. So that's the No side. Anybody can kind of do what they want. But the Yes is that most people try to be 508-compliant. Most people, Public Affairs in fact, they have a policy out there for and all the sub-pages underneath that. They make sure it validates, and it's the same thing with all our projects. We're doing the same thing. But there's gonna be a few people out there, they can put up their own website, put up their own server, they can do something, and when they have those and publish those, they don't necessarily fall underneath anything that says "Hey you have to be accessible, hey you have to put this up with a certain way that says hey this has to be like this." So it's a Yes and a No answer.

Dennis: I think it's like that in a lot of colleges and universities, because as we all know, there's no law in the United States, at least not right now, outside of federal, for sites to be accessible. But obviously, any public service or like a university would wanna have their website accessible.

Jeff: Right, through a lot of the research that I've done, that's kind of what I've found. It's that there are people who have policies out there, but you're gonna get some stragglers that come in and they can do what they want, and they're part of the university or they're part of this company, but they don't necessarily fall underneath one of the main places to put out - they don't necessarily fall under IT or they don't fall under public affairs where they are underneath that policy for that specific area.

Dennis: Okay, let's talk a little bit more about podcasting and accessibility. And speaking about law and everything, of course Section 508 is what I was referring to for the federal law in the States, and the WCAG, theW3C's guidelines. Do you use any of those guidelines specifically?

Jeff: Yeah, we do. I've written somewhat about what we do here out on a blog. I should probably mention that, And that was basically, for me, I think I went to the podcast in New Media Expo a few years ago, 2006, in California there, Ontario, California, not Ontario, Canada. I went down there, and when podcasting came up a few years ago, it was one of the projects that I had to learn about because of Rice University. But because of my background, I was like "This is right up my alley, this is great". And so I started to learn more about it, take some more classes, and in that first New Media Expo that I went to in 2006, I learned some stuff that I figured I could give to some of the clients that were asking me about this, and I talked to Rice University about it. So I started keeping a blog and I just started posting new things out there as I would learn them. And then I found out that people would ask me questions through that, since it was public. And it's been this kind of snowball thing where users are really making the content. They'll email me and say "What about this?" And it's typically something I've either already been asked at Rice to work on or by a client of some sort, or it's something I probably should know about anyway. So I go around and talk to some of the tech folks here and try to answer some questions. But that was one of the first questions, it's the 508, "What's required for a podcast?" You can go out on the blog and you can search for Section 508. The main idea of what I've been posting about it, even though they don't say "podcast" in a text of it, there's no mention of that word, all over it definitely applies.

And specifically, I grabbed a copy here, while I was thinking about doing this: Subpart A for the General Section says "Information technology includes computers, insular equipment, information kiosks - blah blah" and they list "multimedia". And so multimedia is one buzz word that they add in there. And then Subpart B for the Technical Standards, that's organized into 6 sections. And it's got web-based information but it's also got telecommunications and then it lists video and multimedia as well as a section. And you guys can read it as well as I can, under the web-based information section, it says that it requires a text equivalent for any non-text element being provided on a web page. And non-text elements can include photographs, images, and other multimedia files. So they have pictures on there, but I'm pretty sure they meant to include video files as well.

Dennis: Yeah, I was just thinking, why don't they put audio and video, but I guess multimedia kind of covers everything and it covers new technology and stuff.

Jeff: I think they do. They do say "multimedia" again in the next paragraph which says "Any text equivalent for a multimedia presentation should be synchronized with the presentation". So obviously they're thinking audio and video. You wouldn't synchronize something with a picture. So I think that obviously says right there, audio portion of multimedia production has to be captioned.

Dennis: Getting back to your blog, that's how I came across your name. You got some great posts. I just wanna mention a couple, "Section 508-Compliant Podcasting: An Undue Burden" which we'll talk about in a second, "Podcast Captioning, Recommended Podcast Transcription Service, Accessible Podcasts". There's a lot of good stuff out there, so anyone listening, go out there and check it out:

Jeff: Yeah, it's fun.

Dennis: So let me just ask an open-ended question here. How do you make an accessible podcast?

Jeff: I get a ton of questions like that as well. If you think about it, specifically what they're saying in the text of 508, and then if you just think about what people need, it's not so much the law anymore, you just think about "What is this person gonna want?" The audio is easy for me. We've basically taken that and said it just requires a transcript. You can time that transcript and have it follow the audio, but that's really not needed. Accessibility standards say "As long as you have the text available, you're fine." Video is harder, in that you may do something in a video like a hand motion or a facial expression or show an object, something like that, but you can't get it translated in the text very well. You'd have to type out "And now he showed an object".

Dennis: Yeah, you gotta add in the audio description and what's going on.

Jeff: And so you describe the object and all that stuff, and that would be a transcript whereas if you could caption it, then you can see what's going on, but obviously you wanna have the text available as well and a description of what's going on in the video, like describing the object and everything, because that will satisfy both hearing and visually impaired people at the same time.

The concept of closed captioning in video, that's actually the hardest to achieve. There are software programs out there that do it, they're fairly manual, and on the blog I mention a couple, but I don't have a great one that I'd actually recommend and say this is the one you should be using. But you can do it your own. WebAIM, you're probably familiar with it,, they have some info out there on how to do that, how to put closed captions on your video. There's also companies that do it, Visual Data Inc, I think their link is They're a pretty good company to do that. And then we've also used Video Captures, That's a couple of companies out there that'll do it for you.

So I think accessibility in a podcast, if it's audio, it's a transcript. If it's video, transcript it with some audio definition, some of the description of what's going on in the video. But then closed captioning is one of those things out there that you're thinking about "I'm not sure how to do this." There's a couple of companies that can help you out and there's a couple of websites that actually teach you how to do it as well.

Dennis: So for podcasting, the requirement really is just to get a transcript and post it out there with your blog entry with the podcast.

Jeff: Pretty much.

Dennis: Can you embed the transcription in an mp3 and if so, does that make it accessible?

Jeff: Yeah, you can. Like I said before, it actually makes it a bit inaccessible. You can, but actually wouldn't, because the speed at which it will play or your podcast would read is actually slower than someone could actually scan it on page. If you put a transcript out, you could put it in the audio, not needed, like I said, it actually slows someone down if you read it. If you're doing transcriptions, you can hire somebody to do it, do it yourself, it's not that hard. There's services out there now that they actually subscribe to your podcast RSS feed, and when a new podcast pops up, they actually transcript it and send it back to you.

Dennis: Like automatically?

Jeff: Yes, automatically, so you don't even have to do anything. Basically, you just do your podcast, you push it out there, it's available in audio, it's done, and then they'll subscribe to your feed, and then in a few hours, you get a transcript back. And a bill, obviously.

Dennis: Which service does that?

Jeff: There's a few I have.

Dennis: Do Casting Words do that?

Jeff: Yeah, Casting Words does that. I like them. There's a couple other ones out there.

Dennis: There's

Jeff: yeah, that's Connecticut Secretary. That's an interesting one. And Noble Transcription is another one I think is out there recently. I like Casting Words Connecticut Secretary and Noble Transcription.        

Dennis: I heard there's a new one. I think it's called Enablr. I just came across it, Enablr.

Jeff: No I haven't checked them out yet. And you can also do it yourself. But I always recommend a transcript online. It's searchable so you actually get more readers that could subscribe to your podcast, that's a cool thing. People can Google things that you've said and it actually comes up.

Dennis: Yeah that's a very good point. Not only is it accessible, like a lot of accessible features, it's also good for SEO.

Jeff: Right, and then you can do it yourself. I always say that Dragon works well, Dragon Naturally Speaking. You can train it to listen to your own voice and you can feed it an audio file and then it'll go type what you're saying. And then you can check it like that.

Dennis: Really? What's that called?

Jeff: Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's a software program that is typically used for accessibility. It's for someone who doesn't type or cannot type, and they basically speak into the microphone and it types them a word document. But you can also take an audio file and you train it to your voice, and then you feed that audio file, and it plays and listens to it, and then it just types as it's listening. The trick for something like this where you're doing that, is that it doesn't train itself for my voice or your voice. It's trained for the user's voice. So what I do is if I'm interviewing someone, I'll actually listen to the interview, and I'll talk into a mic, and just talk back what I've said or what that interview person is saying. And then it will type for me what I'm saying. And I can even add some things like pause it and say "Jim said, colon" and then it will put "Jim said:" in there. And then I can play it again, I can talk off what he's saying, what I'm hearing in my ear, and then it'll type it in, and I can make corrections on it as well. So yeah, it's kind of fun. You can put speaker names in there and all this other stuff, but that's Dragon, that's a pretty good application to use.

Dennis: That does sound very cool. Thanks for the tip.

Jeff: Yeah, and then don't forget to publish an RSS feed separately. That's something else I'd say. When you put these transcripts out there, don't just put them side by side with your audio podcasts. Publish a separate RSS feed, because there's a lot of people out there that don't want to subscribe to the audio portion, they just want to subscribe to the text version. And they can paste that in their RSS reader, their news reader, whatever, and they got all your transcripts right out there. And you don't have to worry about it. So those are some things I'd do. That's another tidbit that I've found that works really well.

Dennis: Excellent points. Well I think we're winding down here, but there's one last thing I wanted to kind of discuss, and that is something we mentioned earlier, the "undue burden". Can you explain the undue burden in reference to accessible podcasts?

Jeff: Yes, undue burden. The actual wording is: Do all these things that we've talked about, "unless an undue burden will be placed on the agency to do so."

Dennis: And we're talking about Section 508, right?

Jeff: Yes. So undue burden, I looked that up, that's defined as significant difficulty or expense. And though obviously "significant" is relative, 508 standards say that things must be: 1.) captioned or 2.) audio described, depending on the format and the content of the podcast. We've kind of already talked about that. And I think "2" is fairly easy. You can lay a voice track down if you're doing a podcast and describe something for video, or type something up if you're doing audio podcasting, and you can use Dragon, you can use one of these companies out there. But like I say, the hard thing is captioning. It's not in the typical suite of tools for a podcaster to do video captioning. And like I say, transcripts are easy, but video podcasts require a lot more time and effort, or expense, to send it away to some company that'll do it for you. So I think this is where undue burden can be applied. For a weekly podcaster who is podcasting as a hobby, closed captioning is probably out of reach. "I'm not really spending any money doing these podcasts. It's so easy, I can publish it on iTunes, I can get an account on (LibsIn?), I can do whatever I want to, and I haven't spent any money really. It's just the time I have into it". But then when you start thinking about closed captioning, you could spent just about twice the amount of time as you've got just into the audio podcast as doing the captioning. So I think, in there, it's about some hobby or something, I think you can safely say an undue burden is met at that point, and you are going to provide a transcript of the audio or an audio description of some video, and you're gonna get as close to describing what's going on as possible, and you're gonna throw it out there on an RSS feed and you're done.

But for a company or a university or an agency, where that video has some type of meaning, something that the person needs that's essential to their job, like a meeting in a town hall or a training podcast or even for a university, something like an enrolment video, or how to do something online. They're considering that thing "mission critical", something that the agency has. And I think that the law states there that it does need to be captioned.

So you got this balance between "Is this thing that I'm doing for people out there that need it in order to do their job or need it to enroll in a university or to get an A in their grades on their classes. Do they need it to do that?" And if they do, then it's mission critical, and then you need to worry about that. But then undue burden states that you're doing a podcast, like for me, I'm doing the Why and How Podcasting, I put a transcript out there. If I did a video, I'd put a video of a transcript as well, probably do some audio description. Closed captioning for me to send it to a company and spend some money on it, probably there I could say "Hey that's an undue burden. Someone doesn't have to listen to this to actually do what they need to do in their daily life."

Dennis: That's an interesting concept, just thinking about the whole accessibility thing and what's required, what's not required. But I think the fog is clearing, so to speak, as far as what's required, what's acceptable and what's not.

Jeff: And there's a few people out there that are doing it easier. I say sending it off to a company and things like that. And we mentioned Casting Words and some of those other ones and you can do that Dragon Naturally Speaking, get in there. But if you're gonna go with some type of transcription service. It's kind of a personal thing. That's probably another tip I should mention. When you go out there and look for a transcription service, it's not a big investment to send it to 5 or 10 services and get them back and see how they did, if you're gonna use them. Some of them will type exactly what you say, umms and ahs and everything included. But some of them, if you get to know them, they'll actually type what you should've said. They'll actually go through, and they'll actually say "Yeah he meant to say this, or he just said that". And when you trip over the word and you restate it, they'll just type it straight through, instead of tripping over the word, they'll just "Oh, he meant to say this here, okay, keep going". And if you can get a relationship with a service like that, even for captioning or for transcription, that's a fun thing to do, to be able to go back and forth with somebody like that. And that's why some of these other smaller companies like Noble Transcription or the Secretary, that's why a couple of those are sometimes better than the larger shops, because you send it to a larger shop, they send it right back, exactly what you said. Depending on what you're looking for obviously.

Dennis: Yeah I prefer not to have the umms and ahs. Okay, well I think we're gonna wrap it up, Jeff. Thanks again for joining me on Web Axe. Jeffrey Frey, Web Services Manager at Rice University.

Jeff: Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

Dennis: All right, that was Jeff Frey of Rice University. Thanks again Jeff for coming on the show. There was some valuable information, a couple of excellent tips in there. And before signing off, I just like to mention that Web Axe will be moving to a once-a-month format. And this is simply due to a very busy personal life with the two kids and all, and my work, that I think it's just best on both sides if Web Axe is just once-a-month, which is kind of been tailing to that lately anyway. So I hope you understand, and we'll see you next time.