I am sometimes asked to share podcasts about hearing loss with my readers. And while I love to raise awareness about hearing loss topics, my first question is always, “Is there a transcript of the audio available?” Often, the answer is one of confusion. “But it’s a podcast,” they reply. “Podcasts don’t have transcripts.” The truth is that many of the best ones do.
The same thing happens with videos about hearing loss. “Would you share this video about a new product for people with hearing loss?” “But the video is not captioned,” I reply. How can I share content that is not accessible to me or other people with hearing loss? It makes me wonder how hearing-loss-friendly the product in the video actually is.
Rule #1: If you are creating content about hearing loss, make sure it is accessible to the audience you are targeting. Or better yet — make all your content accessible for everyone, hearing loss or not.
Hearing Loss Becoming Increasingly Common
According to the newly released WHO’s World Report on Hearing, 1 in 5 people worldwide are living with hearing loss. This equates to 1.5 billion people, with around 430 million of them requiring rehabilitation services for their hearing loss. The numbers are staggering, yet they are expected to increase rapidly. The report estimates that over 1 billion young people (12-35 years) are at risk for hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sound.
By 2050, the WHO estimates 1 in 4 people or 25% of the world’s population (2.5 billion people) will have hearing loss, with at least 700 million of them requiring rehabilitation. This is not a group to overlook when creating media content.
How to Make Your Media Hearing Loss Friendly
With a bit of forward planning, it is easy to make your media content more accessible. Here are my suggestions. Please share yours in the comments.
1. Caption pre-recorded content.
Everybody loves captions, hearing loss or not! In fact, 80% of people who use captions are not hard of hearing. For people with hearing loss, captions are a must. They help us combat hearing loss exhaustion by reducing listening effort and help us fill in words that we miss. They give us confidence that we can participate more fully in different listening situations.
But captions are not only for people with hearing loss. Research shows that captioning your videos increases viewership by 40% and that 90% of captioned videos are watched to completion. Captioned videos reach a larger audience because they make watching possible in a wider variety of settings. Captions also make it easier to understand complicated or confusing content and improve intelligibility if the speaker has a strong accent.
All pre-recorded content on all platforms should be captioned. Period, end of sentence.
2. Caption live content too!
Live content like webinars and virtual meetings should also always be captioned. The gold standard of captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation or CART, where a live transcriber types what is spoken in real time. CART is critical in educational situations and other highly technical presentations, but it is not always available or cost effective for personal use. In that case, automatic speech recognition (ASR) captions can do the trick. Free auto-captions are available on Google Meet and will be available on Zoom by Fall 2021. If you need early access to the Zoom auto-captions, fill out this form.
3. Provide transcripts for podcasts and other audio only content.
According to ListenNotes, there are currently almost 2 million podcasts worldwide, with more than 900,000 news ones started in 2020 alone. Podcasts are a great way to share information, entertain and express yourself, but many are not as user-friendly as they could be. Providing a transcript not only makes a podcast more accessible, but it also provides an alternative method for people to engage with it. It also makes your podcast easier for people to find via Google.
The same goes for radio programming. When I was interviewed on NPR, the producers provided a transcript of the interview at the same link as the audio recording so that I could share it with the hearing loss community This should be the norm rather than the exception.
Self-Advocacy Benefits Us All
The pandemic has created greater awareness about the importance of making online content — both live and pre-recorded — more accessible for all. Let’s hope the improvements we have seen will remain post-pandemic.
Yet, the need for continued advocacy remains. Compliment the providers that offer hearing-loss-friendly content and continue to demand it from those that do not. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, advocacy works.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.