Campaigning for closed captions online
August 4, 2014 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm hard of hearing and I'm very upset that so much online video is not captioned and is therefore inaccessible to me. I want to contact online video providers - especially news organizations, documentary filmmakers and businesses - to strongly encourage them to provide closed captions, and I'm looking for your advice on an effective approach.

I have severe hearing loss from birth and I wear hearing aids in both ears that allow me to function okay in face-to-face conversations, but video is difficult for me, especially when the speaker is not facing the camera. For TV and movies, I always use subtitles or closed captions. Closed captions are federally mandated for TV, and for online content that has been shown on TV. (FCC regulations) But.. for some reason providers have dragged their heels on this. Netflix had to be sued by the National Association for the Deaf before they provided widespread captioning. (Thanks NAD!)

However, I still frequently run across online content that should be captioned but is not (news programs and advertisers are the worst offenders). This is completely mystifying to me (and mildly enraging) since they've already had to create the captions for the TV broadcast. Is there an additional technical hurdle of which I am not aware?

I know I can make a complaint to the FCC, but I think it might be faster to contact content producers directly, especially in the case of small organizations/solo producers.

I would like to make these points:
1. There are lots of deaf, hard of hearing, and other people who have difficult understanding spoken language. With sufficiently advanced age, most people will lose a significant amount of their hearing.
2. Automatic captioning (e.g. YouTube) is a flawed solution that is often incomprehensible, and deaf people should have the same rights of access as hearing people.
3. Content producers are shooting themselves in the foot by not making this accessible, because they are not communicating their message to their entire audience.
4. [especially for news organizations who don't provide transcripts] I could miss information that could be life saving (natural disasters, etc)
5. They already have to caption the same content for TV, so what is their fucking problem so they should be able to utilize the work they have already done.

I would also like a boilerplate message for YouTube bloggers/web series creators, but I'd tone it down a lot since they don't have the same responsibilities as corporate entities. I would like to point them at free software that makes captioning as painless as possible, but I'm not aware of the options here.

I'm asking for your thoughts and suggestions. Ideally I'd come up with a boilerplate that others could use as well, and I'm hoping public pressure has an effect. Captioning should be easy and cheap to include, and it would make many people's lives much better.
posted by desjardins to Technology (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The best you can hope for as far as user-uploaded content is going to be automatic subtitles. 100 hours of video are uploaded to youtube every minute, even if google mandated subtitles (which they never would), there aren't enough human beings to ever check that they're not just gibberish. Your efforts would be way more productive aimed at professional producers, if they have captioning prepared for television it's usually a matter of just fixing the production pipeline.
posted by Oktober at 7:59 AM on August 4, 2014

The best you can hope for as far as user-uploaded content is going to be automatic subtitles.

Really, why? I'm not referring to a random someone's cute cat video, I'm talking about bloggers that make a living off of web content. Think Will it Blend, My drunk kitchen, vlogbrothers, makeup tutorials, etc. If it's some really difficult hurdle to caption your own 5 minute video, let me know, otherwise I think they should be encouraged to do so, or lots of people will simply not bother watching.
posted by desjardins at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think that for individuals, including information on how to close caption is really important, so I would suggest some boilerplate that includes platform/program options or a link to a tutorial that does the same. People are lazy, and researching how to to close caption is another hurdle.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:26 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you spoken with anyone from a company that sells closed captioning services? On VITAC's website, for example, they specifically say that they do closed captioning for YouTube videos (as well as the usual TV/movies/etc). It might be interesting for you to do an informational interview with the department(s) that do outreach and sales to see what thoughts they have about convincing people to have their content closed captioned.

Ultimately, if you want people like bloggers or other low-on-the-totem-pole content producers to have their videos closed captioned, you may have to be able to offer them a closed captioning service for free or very reduced cost. A non-profit closed captioning service might be the answer to issues like that. If you decide to go that route, there are a lot of different ways you can start researching setting up that kind of org, and lots of people who you could probably talk to about partnering up with you (advocacy orgs for Deaf and HOH people, companies that sell closed captioning and interpretation companies, even translation and subtitling companies maybe -- I'm sure many more that you can think of, too).
posted by rue72 at 8:30 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, it looks like Youtube has captioning ability built in so they would not need software, as long as you are talking about people using Youtube.

You can do it either automatically or by hand. The instructions make it seem pretty easy. I would stress that the automatic captioning doesn't work well and that they should type in their own subtitles.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:31 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

For stuff like Hannah Hart and the Green bros I would contact then directly on their tumblrs. The latter at least seem pretty responsive to asks of this nature.
posted by elizardbits at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am not hard of hearing, but even I prefer that all content have closed captioning. This is not only because it keeps the content accessible to those who are hard of hearing, but also because I personally find it is helpful when watching content in which people are speaking in less familiar dialects of English (i.e. British tv/movies).

My point is a minor one (being able to understand other English language dialects is obviously not necessary the way that being able to understand audio content, period, is) but it can still be a way to demonstrate that expanding closed captioning can and will benefit everyone.

I agree that YouTube's auto captioning is crap. Unfortunately, it will always be crap because its efficacy is somewhat dependent on the audio quality of the video that's been uploaded. You'll never get everyone on board with manually captioning their videos, because it takes work, but I do think it would be interesting to suggest a kind of "wiki" style crowd-sourcing movement that would encourage the general public to write and spot-check captions/transcripts for YouTube and other videos. Crowd-sourcing would be free and, as the internet has already proven, people enjoy participating in it.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding contacting the Green Brothers directly. I get the feeling that they would be amenable to accommodating such a request.

Actually, I'd think this would be something for which you'd have to contact ANY content provider directly. YouTube might have captioning software built in, but I for one did not know that until reading the previous comments on this question. I think if people are made aware that it exists, they will use it. (Again, this assumes YouTube. As far as other video sharing platforms, I have no idea.)
posted by tckma at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2014

So any thoughts on developing the actual boilerplate? Or am I good with the bullet points in the original question? What's better, appealing to someone's sense of social justice, or pointing out laws and regulations?
posted by desjardins at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2014

YouTube, as vaguely as I know, has a do-gooder department that at least works with developing countries and nonprofits, etc.

They should nudge people to caption more videos because of accessibility, sure, but it is also an opportunity for them to get oodles of training data for their speech-to-text. If people could supply subtitles, it's more data for machine translation.

I personally didn't realize I could supply captions at all, but I totally would, when watching my mindless YouTube tv.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:01 AM on August 4, 2014

Unless you are contacting an actual business (and yes, vloggers are technically actual businesses but not in the sense I am going for) I would not jump right in with the YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW AND HERE ARE THE LAWS YOU ARE BREAKING. I would appeal to their sense of wanting to do not just the right thing, but a GOOD thing, a thoughtful thing, and a thing that will help them reach more people who are otherwise unable to enjoy their products.
posted by elizardbits at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

So any thoughts on developing the actual boilerplate? Or am I good with the bullet points in the original question? What's better, appealing to someone's sense of social justice, or pointing out laws and regulations?

I think that it depends on whether you think the content provider is interested in social justice or not, and you'd probably have to assess that on a case by case basis. Personally, I would frame it as: your legal duty extends to ABC [ie, provide closed captioning for anything to be aired on television, etc], and many believe that your moral duty extends further to included up to XYZ as well [ie, to provide closed captioning to all content created for public consumption].

While on the one hand, emphasizing the benefits of including closed captioning (ex: you'd be complying with the law, you'd be in the right morally, etc) is part of a strong strategy, the other part of the strategy is convincing people how low the costs to including closed captioning are (*especially* emphasizing that the costs are lower the benefits), and even reducing those costs if possible (that's where pro bono, sliding scale, and reduced fee services could come into play). So, what I personally would add to your letter would be information on how to get closed captioning services, and also what estimated costs for those services would be. (Ideally, you'd also be able to give estimates on what the estimated benefits would be as well. In dollar figures, not just in general terms).

Essentially, I would do a cost/benefit analysis for content providers right there in the letter, in addition to telling them of the legal duties they have and the moral gains they could reap by including closed captioning. You'd probably need help getting those kinds of estimates/figures, but that's where research, informational interviews, and connections with other orgs who do these kinds of estimates and pursue these kinds of projects come in. That's the kind of thing that companies that sell closed captioning services are likely to have, and something to talk to their sales and legal departments about, for sure.

Best of all would be if there were some sort of tax benefit or other kind of financial gain to be made by including closed captioning or by making content more accessible to people of all abilities. I have *no* idea about whether that exists, but orgs like NAD or companies that provide closed captioning services probably do, and you can also contact places like the National Council on Disability or more local counterparts of the government agencies that regulate/monitor accessibility as well.
posted by rue72 at 9:15 AM on August 4, 2014

It might be handy to point out captioning services that people can easily use -- Wistia's built-in closed captioning capability is fantastic, I just used it on a video for work and it's inspired me to CC as much as I can because it's so easy. You order the captions, and they go away and make them for a reasonable fee (mine was $200 for an hour-long video). CC is also sold as an SEO benefit for video content providers, so that could be a good thing to point out too.
posted by ukdanae at 9:19 AM on August 4, 2014

Instead of contacting vlog people yourself, would it be possible to work with NAD/NCD/etc to develop a campaign?

...I mean, it seems like it might be more effective than a solo crusade.
posted by aramaic at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

With respect to your first point, it might be worth explicitly mentioning that American citizens who aren't native speakers of English benefit from closed captioning as well.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's long been one of my principles that accessibility benefits everyone, which benefits business. You may find some relevant information from The Center for an Accessible Society. Sadly, it doesn't look like they have a lot of up-to-date stuff, but it may give you some keywords to search on. The W3C also has accessibility guidelines you can mention. WebAIM is an organization focused entirely on web accessibility.

Even though I have no hearing problems, I'm simply too impatient for most online video - I hate that sites will make content available only in video format. Every time I encounter a news story for which there is only video, I contact the site and ask where the transcript for their hearing-impaired users is. Having to sit through 4 minutes of video where I could speed-read an article in 30 seconds drives me insane. It's the entire reason I don't watch news on TV, because I can't skip to the part I'm actually interested in.

As for why they might do these things for their own benefit - video is not very search-engine friendly. Providing transcripts is instant SEO (I realize that you asked about captioning specifically, but transcripts are also valuable). Also, increase their potential audience - not only the severely disable, but those facing gradual diminishing of their senses (read: seniors. read: boomers. read: a lot of people who still represent a large market share). Appeal to their wallets.
posted by timepiece at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't know anything about this, but I wonder if part of your appeal needs to be to the video software or whatever it's called. Like, does Microsoft's Silverlight have a closed captioning function built in that would make it easy for news websites that use Silverlight to embed their video? Does Adobe offer that? YouTube definitely does, but most television networks do not host their content on YouTube. You probably have a sense of this already, but that would be my first question -- is this a built in feature that they are ignoring, or is there no easy way for them to do this right now? If it isn't go after Silverlight or whoever to make it a built-in feature that can utilize the television closed captioning.

Then, assuming this is a feature they are simply choosing not utilize, I would reach out to the major networks. You go start at the top ad go after NBC/Universal/Comcast/Viacom/SatansSpawn/Whatever because of how huge it is and how much programming it controls. Or go after individual networks, from ABC to ESPN to ABC Family, all separately. But it will be more effective if you can organize the deaf community around it. As a hearing person, this is something that literally never dawned on me, but now that I know about it, yeah, if they are posting videos that have closed captioning anyway for TV, they should absolutely include the closed captioning online. No excuse. I'm sure you could get hearing people on board if they knew about this.

As for vloggers, someone like Hannah Hart is just some woman making goofy videos. I've transcribed a lot in my lifetime -- it takes a long time and it is the most tedious thing ever. Seriously, I hate it. There are transcription services, but there is obviously a cost associated. I'm not sure people will be willing to pay that extra cost if they don't really have to, especially since quality transcription service can be a little pricey.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:25 PM on August 4, 2014

There's a lot going on with this issue right now. The FCC has proposed regulations, taken comments, issued regulations, but something happened recently, I can't find it easily, but there's a new round of comments about this issue. You can definitely submit comments as a consumer and an advocate. If you have trouble connecting, memail me.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:15 PM on August 4, 2014

You may have already seen this, but this might be a good talking point: Discovery Digital Networks Gets Boost Adding Closed Captions to Youtube Videos.

This guy has a good tutorial of how to add closed captions to youtube vidoes.

This Knight Rider channel has cc enabled!

Captions for Youtube campaign.

How to Report Uncaptioned Videos on Youtube (for videos that previously aired on television)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:30 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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