Not everyone has the same communication needs and challenges. It’s not the responsibility of these individuals to seek assistance, but our responsibility to accommodate them. Although we still have a ways to go yet, we’ve taken the most important step — we’ve admitted this.
But admitting it is the easy part.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the surging popularity of podcasts in recent years. Although advanced models of hearing aids and hearing aid accessories allow the hearing impaired to directly stream these audio shows along with a multitude of other content, there’s still a noteworthy lack of accessibility for the Deaf. They have, in essence, been largely shut off from the world of podcasts.
The number of podcasts that provide their audience with transcripts or closed captioning is still disarmingly small. And though this has been mitigated somewhat by the availability of free audio transcription apps, many within the Deaf community question why these apps are even necessary. What’s stopping podcasts from simply providing these transcripts right out the door?
It’s not as though the Deaf community isn’t interested. This Reddit thread from 2017 contains more than a hundred stories of Deaf people expressing their sadness and frustration at being largely overlooked. But it also contains something else, as well — scores of creators and advocates stepping forward with transcripts, both official and unofficial.
In other words, even though there’s still a lack of access for the Deaf, that’s slowly changing. As a result, Deaf people are not only enjoying podcasts but also making their own, ensuring that peers in the community can enjoy them. Who better to know the needs of a Deaf person than someone who’s also Deaf, right?
In the process, many of them are discovering a passion they never knew they had.
“Podcasting gives me a kind of freedom I haven’t felt before,” Caroline Mincks, co-host of audio drama Seen and Not Heard, told Forbes Magazine. “I’ve been lucky to find lots of people who are willing and eager to listen and let me know what sounds right.”
Others have taken things a step further. Per The Feed, Australian podcast Talking in Common recently began translating its shows into Australian sign language, also known as Auslan.
Teaming up with Auslan Stage Left, an advocacy group for accessible theatre, co-hosts Kate Gudinski and Sophie Panton hope to foster greater inclusivity for their audience. More importantly, they hope that others will follow their example.
It’s heartening to see so many creators join the movement for accessibility and encouraging to see Deaf creators succeed, mainly where podcasts are concerned. One can’t help but hope that more individuals follow the example of Talking in Common and Seen and Not Heard. If they do, perhaps transcripts and live interpretation will become the standard rather than a rarity.