Do I Need to Write Podcast Transcripts for Accessibility?

January 18, 2022

For many brands, audio content provides an excellent opportunity for engagement. Podcasts have steadily gained popularity since 2010, and nearly 60% of US consumers over the age of 12 have listened to at least one show.

By offering content in a digestible audio format, you can reach a wider audience, but you’ll need to take a few steps to keep your podcasts accessible. Transcripts can be a helpful resource for people with hearing disabilities, people with attention-related cognitive conditions, and people who just don't want to listen to audio to find information.

Put simply, if you’re planning on hosting podcasts on your website, you should also provide transcripts. Below, we’ll explain why text alternatives for audio-only content are helpful — and provide some best practices for creating and publishing.

WCAG requires transcripts for all audio-only content, including podcasts

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the most widely cited set of standards for digital accessibility.

While WCAG doesn’t specifically address podcasts, it does contain guidance for “audio-only" content. Podcasts certainly apply — especially if you’re publishing your podcasts directly on your website. WCAG Success Criteria 1.2.1, “Audio-only and Video-only (Prerecorded)” states that audio-only content should have an alternative that “presents equivalent information.”

Readers and listeners should have the same access to info.

Podcast transcripts help your content attract more listeners

In other articles, we’ve discussed the importance of text alternatives for non-text content. Some people cannot hear audio, or prefer not to; providing a text alternative ensures that they’re part of your conversation. Users can also search through transcripts for important information, and some people may listen to your podcast while reading the transcript to improve comprehension. Text can also be repurposed (for instance, converted to braille or to different languages).

Additionally, transcripts may help with search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines may have trouble interpreting audio content. A text alternative provides helpful context, which may improve search engine positioning.

And if you’re not currently creating transcripts for your podcasts, you might find yourself falling behind: In early 2021, music streaming service Spotify introduced an auto-transcribe feature for podcasts.

Spotify is one of the world’s most popular podcast delivery services, and by offering transcripts, the service will help to standardize an important accessibility feature. The company hopes to roll out the feature for all podcasts over time (at launch, transcripts were restricted to certain Spotify Original shows).

Related: SEO Is Changing: Exploring the Link Between Accessibility and Search Rankings

When creating podcast transcripts, avoid relying on automatic tools

While automatic transcripts can be helpful, they can miss important context. Content creators shouldn’t rely on automatic tools when offering important accessibility features — remember, errors in your transcript can frustrate readers and harm your brand.

A better approach: Think about your transcript when drafting scripts for your episodes. By prioritizing accessibility when writing, you’ll limit the time you spend preparing each podcast — and you’ll have accurate, reliable transcripts for your readers.

Of course, automatic transcription tools are extremely convenient, and some products provide fairly accurate output. If you’re planning on using auto-transcription, remember to review each transcript for accuracy. Make sure that the text clearly indicates the speaker and try to fix any grammatical errors before publishing.

Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Transcripts should include descriptions of significant sounds that might help readers understand your content. For example, if your podcast contains sound effects or musical cues that affect the context, include them in your text.
  • Some people might search for the word “transcript” right away, so clearly label your scripts on your website to help users find them. 
  • Provide links to your transcripts in the RSS feed that delivers your podcast. Include the links when promoting your show on social media.
  • For longer podcast transcripts, consider adding subheadings and semantic HTML markup to make your content more readable. 
  • If your podcast pages include a media player, make sure the player’s controls are accessible. Users should be able to start and stop playback with a keyboard alone. For more guidance, read the W3C’s recommendations for media players.

Related: Tips for Making Multimedia Accessible for People With Hearing Disabilities

WCAG provides an excellent framework for improving accessibility

By offering transcripts, you provide your readers with more ways to access your content. However, transcripts alone won’t make your website accessible — and if your site has other barriers that affect people with disabilities, you’ll want to address them as quickly as possible.

WCAG is based on four basic principles: Content should be perceivable, understandable, operable, and robust. This approach ensures that the document remains usable when technology changes — after all, WCAG wasn’t written for podcast creators, but it still provides useful guidance.

Developers, designers, and creators who adopt an accessible mindset can provide a better experience for all users. We believe that WCAG provides the best path to success.

To learn more about WCAG and common accessibility issues, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility or download our Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist.

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