Hearing Loss, Accessibility, and Your Podcast
You might think it odd that you need to keep the hearing impaired in mind as you're creating audio for your podcast. But as one of those who has hearing loss, I would certainly appreciate it if you would keep us in mind.
Over the weekend, I posted a Twitter thread imploring my fellow podcasters, specifically podcasters who make audio fiction, to consider the hearing impaired.
For a lot of podcast creators, it was a bit of a bombshell. “Why would I make audio accessible to deaf people?” That does sound a little odd, until you remember that not all people who have hearing loss are deaf. Surprise!
And speaking of surprising things: I'm hearing impaired. I have moderate hearing loss in both ears, isolated to certain frequencies. There are many of us out there, some with little bitty, tiny hearing aids on that you probably never notice. That’s by design.
But even when we are aided with our nearly-invisible hearing aids, we still face challenges. Because these cool little pieces of technology placed inconspicuously behind our ears are terribly expensive, kind of miraculous, but yet are not perfect. They are easily defeated -- or at least their benefits greatly diminished -- by the less-than-silent world we live in.
No one sets out to make digital or web content that’s intentionally inaccessible. In fact, web accessibility standards have been around for a very long time. Mostly when we think about web accessibility standards, we consider the needs for the visually impaired. And yes, podcaster, you need to keep accessibility for the visually impaired in mind when doing all sorts of things for your show.
But you also need to think about the needs of the hearing impaired. Hey, that’s me! 👋
This week’s miniseries is going to focus on improving the accessibility of podcasts for those with hearing loss. But first, I want you to understand how my hearing loss impacts my ability -- or rather inability -- to both consume and enjoy the content in your podcast episodes.
I assume all of your dialogue is important. Even the parts I can’t hear.
I don't know if you realize this, but most podcasts are not consumed in a quiet room with quality headphones on.
One of the primary benefits of podcasting is their portable nature: we can listen to podcasts anywhere we want. Walking around the city. Riding the bus. Driving our cars. At the airport on an airplane.
Or I should say you can listen in all those environments. Because you do not have hearing loss.
Large portions of the podcast content you enjoy are inaccessible to us in those very normal, real-world environmental conditions. Just like you, we don’t want to choose to only sit quietly in our quiet office and listen to podcasts. Like you, we have lives to lead. And just like you, we would like to take your podcast content along with us.
If only you would help us do that.
There's a false narrative that making the audio -- all of the audio -- of a podcast audible to all listeners somehow limits the creative choices of the maker(s). Creators, the argument goes, are unable to ply their craft as well as they would like to when they are required to make their content accessible to those of us with hearing loss.
I find that argument bunk.
Try that argument again, only substitute the words “hearing impaired” for “visually impaired” or the name of any other group that has special accessibility requirements. You find that argument quickly falling apart.
Making audio accessible isn’t a push-button or after-the-fact process.
Fixing your content for those of us with hearing loss is not a click-button solution. I have a lot of plugins I use with Hindenburg Journalist Pro, and none of them are labeled “Make Hearing Loss Accessible”. Yes, many of those plugins directly address the concern, but you have to know how to use them. That takes time, more thought at the outset of an episode (not after), some proven techniques, and yes, some well-applied software.
Also, publishing a transcript on your episode’s webpage does not solve the problem for me. Because I’m not deaf. I have hearing loss. (Though you should absolutely make a text-only version available for those who are deaf, something I’ve changed my position on recently.)
Exporting your final audio files at -16 LUFS -- something you should absolutely do -- does not fix this too-quiet parts of your audio. Neither does normalizing your final file. And sorry, just adding some compression will not insure that anyone with hearing loss can enjoy your content.
What fixes the problem of accessibility is you, the content creator, taking the time to make sure you are making audio content that is accessible for the hearing impaired.
People with hearing loss listen to podcasts too.
In subsequent episodes of this miniseries, I'll give you some resources for tools and techniques. But for right now, I want you to realize that there are people around you every day who have hearing loss. The 70% of people who don’t yet listen to podcasts? Many of them have hearing loss.
You say you want more people to listen to the content you make. Do you? Because I try out a lot of audio content, and I'm often not in perfectly quiet environments when I have the opportunity to try out a new show. Circumstances are often such that I'm in my car or in a busy airport when I have the time to try out your show.
If I struggle to hear your episode or parts of your episode, I stop listening. If I was subscribed to the show, I unsubscribe and delete the show -- your show -- from my phone. Perhaps worse, I certainly won't recommend it. Because if I struggle to hear portions of your show, someone with even more severe hearing loss or someone who’s hearing cannot be corrected will likely not be able to hear it at all.
So coming up, discussions and ideas on how you can make a better podcast for everyone, not just those of us with hearing loss. From transcripts to tools and every stop in between, this should help make sure the audio content you release on your podcast is accessible to all so that it reaches the widest audience possible.
This is a very personal miniseries to me, and I hope you'll allow me the chance to make my case, even if you’re worried it’ll add even more time to your production chain. (Spoiler: It doesn’t have to.)
Also: two things of note that I’m trying out from some of my conversations from Podcast Movement 2019:
- I don’t (and likely never will) run ads on this show. You, the working podcaster, will likely never hire my firm to produce your podcast, as I mostly work with businesses who want a podcast but don’t want to become podcasters. So while ads and direct sales are off the table, you can show your support for this show and what I say to you four times a week over at BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra.
- I’d love to know how you’re implementing or interpreting the advice I provide on the show. This isn’t a typical “how to podcast” podcast, and I give very few clear-cut answers. To help keep the conversation going, I'm trying out a new service called Flick. No, not Flickr. Flick. It's an app for your phone where we -- that’s you, that’s me, and that’s anyone else who listens -- can have a chat. It’s a group, but not quite like you are probably thinking. It's sort of like a Discord server, but it's not a Discord server. It’s Flick. Until I get a short URL to give out on the show, you can follow this link to download the app and directly join the group. It’s free to download and free to join the group for Podcast Pontifications.
Have a fantastic day. I shall be back tomorrow with another Podcast Pontifications.