A Letter for your Toolbox: How to ask for transcripts and subtitles

A while back, I talked about how to make your blog more accessible, and brought up the issues of transcription.

Transcription is damned hard work to do properly, which leaves a lot of people in bind. It’s time consuming, it can be difficult, it can cause pain, and this doesn’t even get into stuff like how some people with disabilities just can’t provide transcriptions, for whatever reasons.

So, what do we do with content like that, especially now that things like vlogs and videos are becoming more and more a part of the blogosphere?

I think this is something we need to spread around a lot more.

Often, people who create vlogs will have a script they are working with. I suspect that many of them could be talked into doing stuff like providing a transcript or even including subtitles for their videos. But the difficult thing is, how do we ask? How do we suggest that they do more?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of letters, and have written a few in my life. I know what the big challenging bit of letter-writing can be: where do you start?

So, here is something I’ve drafted up. I’ve sent it once so far, so I can’t tell you what the success rate is, but feel free to use it, adapt it to your purposes, and send it along to people who’s vlog content you would like to see have a transcription and/or subtitling.

Personalise it to your heart’s content, and ignore/add things as you see fit, and don’t fret about crediting me in any way.

It’s a tool in our toolbox to encourage wider web-accessibility. The more uses we get out of it, the better!

Dear [Person]

My name is [Anna], and I’m a big fan of your vlogs/videos [Here I listed two videos I really liked].

I would like to link them [on my blog, www.disabledfeminsts.com], but I have some difficulties.

I’m a proponent of increased web accessibility for people with a variety of disabilities. Part of this means including transcriptions of video content when I link things. This is so that people with a variety of needs, such as people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, have auditory processing disorders, or have other disabilities which make watching video content difficult, can still get the content of the video. It is also useful for people who are not native English speakers, and people who, for whatever reason, cannot have the speakers of their computers turned on. Providing transcriptions allows all sorts of people the opportunity to get the content from your videos who might otherwise not be able to.

I think your blogs/videos are great, but whenever I want to link them, I have to make a decision: Do I have the time/energy to transcribe this video so that everyone can get the content? If I don’t, do I link it anyway, and hope someone else will come along and provide a transcript for me? Or is it just easier over all to not link your videos?

Obviously, your videos are very popular, and you’re not hurting for viewers because I don’t link them on my site. But I do think you’re missing an opportunity to have even more people access your content.

I suspect that you script your videos in advance. Would it be possible for you to provide a transcript on your YouTube page, or in your blog, for new videos? As well, YouTube allows you to upload captioning on video content. They provide information on how to do that here: http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/answer.py?answer=100077

I know that creating video content is time-consuming, and I really respect the work you’ve done. Providing a transcript and subtitling would be a great way of allowing more people to access your content, which would be win-win for everyone.

Thank you for your time!


If you have success with a version of this letter, let me know!

By 29 January, 2010.    accessibility, media and pop culture   


  1. The link to flipfloppingjoy is missing its “http://”.

  2. Thanks, codeman, fixed!

  3. Oops, thank you! 🙂

  4. Good stuff! Transcriptless vlogs tend to make me sad, because I just don’t have enough audio/video processing to watch them, and I suspect some are really cool.

  5. I’m so glad this is brought up because I transcribe and subtitle nearly all my videoblogs and it is pretty time consuming but I just wanted to share the website I use. It’s called dotsub.com and it allows you to add subtitles to your video so you don’t have to fumble around with it in a video editor. Once it’s done, it can be translated into other languages and/or the .sft file (which is the translation file) can be downloaded and uploaded into video sharing site such as youtube. So, it might be worth pointing folks in the direction of DotSub.com to motivate them to do it.

  6. @Anita: Another good thing about DotSub is that it allows for the transcription to be crowdsourced– that is, you can have other people do the transcribing/timing, and then you can make it official if it looks good.

  7. Thank you so much for this blog! I started a blog recently, and I occasionally want to use short video clips. I had not been able to find closed-captioning tools, so I’m passing these links (Anna’s and dot.sub) to my video person to ask him if he can make it work.
    I have some qs/requests:
    1. Could you please put up the link to the previous post you mention here: “I talked about how to make your blog more accessible, and brought up the issues of transcription”? I searched the alt tags and your archive and couldn’t find it. I would really love a guide for how to do good audio description and transcription, and I haven’t yet found a resource.
    2. I put a 10-sec video up on my blog and weighed whether to do separate transcription or audio description. I decided, due to my speech disabilities (I’m in the video) and the length it made more sense to do a complete audio description for everyone. However, I have no idea if I did a decent job because I have yet to find a guide for how to audio transcribe well. I have googled many times to try to find resources for making accessible websites, and they are either out of date, or they focus on just one type of disability, or they’re so technical, I can’t understand it at all. (Have some cog dis.) If you have any links from previous posts or anything that provide instructions, that would be terrific.
    3. Can you either post or can I ask someone at FWD to pls email me how u do that font size widget? That’s awesome. I would love that for myself and my readers. I’m doing ctrl+ and ctrl- all day long, having migraines from trying to enlarge font w/out enlarging (loud) graphics. I use wordpress, too, and I have not found that widget. U can edit this q out if you want if u approve this post. It wd be tremendously helpful.

    I love FWD. I’m so glad it exists.

  8. Hi Sharon,

    Here’s a link to the post:Web Accessibility in 5 steps. It’s written, as BFP pointed out, for a non-disabled audience, which I didn’t even think of at the time I wrote it. (I’d like to think I’d do a better job of being more inclusive now.)

    I’ve not run into websites describing a good process of providing audio descriptions. Mostly what the folks here try to do is provide description of visual content within transcriptions. A good example of this is meloukhia’s transcript of some of the stuff around Avatar.

    I’ll pass along the font-size widget request to our web-awesome person. 🙂 You might find some solutions in this thread about making websites more accessible.

    What web browser are you using?
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Diary Stuff =-.

  9. DotSub.Com? I’ve not heard of it! *goes to learn more*

  10. Sharon, the plugin is WP-chgFontSize. I don’t know how plugins work for wordpress.com blogs, and what kind of stuff they will let you load, but I bet that if you do a search of the plugins/widgets you are allowed to use for “font size” you can find something similar.

  11. Well, Anna, I’m glad I asked, because your response was outrageously helpful.
    It also kind of ticked me off (but that’s probly just me being grouchy) cuz there were things I used to do RIGHT, like make my links long and descriptive, and I was told (by a certain feminist mag for whom I did a blog and for whom you did a blog) to change it to the “click HERE,” thing, which is what I have been doing since, and will now go and fix on all my previous blogs!
    I also have always had a tendency to want to describe in depth, the photos in my alt tags, and I was, again, told (by different people) to keep it short and sweet. But I loved the lighthouse alt tag, and I’m going to go fix those, too!
    Lastly, when I said “audio description,” I was using the term incorrectly. What I meant was, a link where someone who is either Deaf or blind or otherwise cannot take in all of the video, can go and get a thorough text description of what’s said and the action and scenery. (I guess I was thinking, people would either read it or have their text reader play it, and if using a screen reader, would be like audio description.) And again — are we sensing a theme? — I did lots of detailed description when I first made the transcript, and someone else suggested a much more abbreviated version, which I followed. I will do it more like your video description from now on. Again, way helpful.
    So, I have bookmarked the hell outta your suggestions — THANK YOU. I have also decided to give myself some credit for being familiar with my own and my friends’ disabilities, and will go back to the advice I used to give my self defense students, many, many years ago: Go with your instincts!
    Oh, I use Firefox and I’m very newly using Ubuntu (Linux), which I’m working the bugs out on. I usually use high-contrast mode, and then I try to flip back and forth to see if the blog works in that and “regular.” I have so far not found high-contrast mode in Ubuntu that is black text on white background (which is best for me), only white on black (which is unusable for me). I’ve tried the magnification programs, and they are a special form of neuro torture for me.
    And Melouhkia, thank you for the tip. I will try to hunt that down. Yay.
    Oh, and my site is a lot about my life with disability and intended for a disability audience, so the fact that I have such a big learning curve on this is either indicative of my poor skills or indicative of how difficult it is to find comprehensive but not-tech-friendly info, or maybe both.

  12. An update:
    I couldn’t find the font-size widget so I asked the WP helpdesk. They said it is against the rules to use it “for security reasons” because it is javascript. I wrote back asking if there was anything comparable, as it is an accessibility issue for readers and bloggers alike and have not yet received any response. :0(

  13. Here’s WP’s final word on the subject:

    > Is there some other way to allow people to change font size, then? Like, how
    you will often go to a newspaper online and you can choose the size of the font
    based on a little A, a medium sized A, or a big A?
    > THis is an issue of disability access.

    Sorry we don’t have an option like that available.

  14. Sharon,

    when you said you have issues enlarging fonts without enlarging images, might it be in Firefox? Because if that is the case, then you could go to the menu item View > Zoom and CHECK the item ‘zoom text only’ (or maybe it says ‘enlarge text only, I don’t remember; my Firefox interface is in French). Recent version of Firefox have it set up so that by default, zooming in will enlarge everything, but you can easily check this item and ta-da, only the text will enlarge from then on.

    I thought, while I’m here, that I would drop in a link to the Readbility bookmarklet, in case it could prove useful..

  15. anatsuno, yes! That did work. Thank you! You have just vastly improved my computer experience. I used to do that when I had windows, but somehow — even tho i checked that feature again and again — missed it in Linux. (I’m going to blame the cognitive impairment now, in case that hasn’t been obvious earlier.)
    I’m putting together a disability blog cheat-sheet at a forum I use, and will definitely include your bookmarklet. (Have already been seinding folks to this thread and these comments.)