Politicians care so much they make their message nonsense

Like a lot of people, I signed up for automatic emails from the various political parties in Canada. Because I live in Nova Scotia, the main federal parties that run here are the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party (often just the NDP). (If I lived in Quebec, I would also have the option of voting for the Bloc Québécois federally.) I dutifully signed up for all four of these parties, so I could be informed about the issues they think are important.

One thing that seems to be very important: YouTube videos! Each of the parties maintains their own YouTube channel, and they stock these channels with videos. Every week or two, I get another email from a political party that really wants my vote (or at least my money), and they often include links to the YouTube channel, or even embedded video. And every week or two, I respond like clockwork, asking them to please provide captioning and/or transcription of the video.

So far, the response has been silence.

I wonder if the reason for this is simply because there’s the new Auto-Captioning service at YouTube, which attempts to automatically subtitle a video a video. Surely this will provide a good working set of subtitles, right?

Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

In alphabetical order, let me show you what the YouTube auto-captioning displays when I try to watch political messages from my current or potential political representatives:

The Conservative Party of Canada:

An image description appears below

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “You don’t think that’s a whole group called american this country and you have to decide”

Actual quote: Voice Over: “Adopted Britain as his home. Called America his country.” Ignatieff: “You have to decide….” (This advertisement is discussing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s past.)

Here is leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May:

See below for image description

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “we’re on Friday evening breeze through across Canada will gather”

Actual Quote: Elizabeth May “…Where on Friday evening Greens from across Canada will gather.”

I will totally admit the Green example is not as terrible as the others. The Greens don’t have a lot of advertising at the moment. (Non-Canadians, this is in part because they’ve not got an actual member in the House. I count them as a national party because they run in all 308 Federal ridings, and May participated in the Federal Leadership Debate.)

The Liberal Party of Canada:

Description appears below the image

Image: A screen cap from a YouTube vid. Caption reads “the prime minister’s their lives for stroger’s we have a garden”.

Actual quote: “… The Prime Minister is there to inspire us to do our best, and we have a guy who….”

The New Democrats:

Image description is below.

Image: A YouTube screen capture. The caption reads “costs are skyrocketing so why does is Stephen harper dead”

Actual Quote: “Heating costs are skyrocketing. So why doesn’t Stephen Harper get it?”

This is what I wrote in one of my last emails to my MP about this issue:

I know disability and accessibility are things you care about too, Megan, so I hope that you will pass along my concerns to the NDP Leadership: Transcribing and subtitling/captioning of video and audio content is an accessibility issue. Providing both a transcript and subtitling allows for more Canadians to be able to access the message of the NDP. As well, it shows a commitment to accessibility and to including Canadians who prefer or require transcripts and subtitling, for whatever reason. As this is something I believe the NDP values, it would be helpful for the party, at all levels, to provide transcription and subtitling for all the videos that they produce.

Of course, subtitling your video (and providing a transcript) are not only for people who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. They’re also for people who have audio processing disorders, who have difficulties understanding spoke English, who don’t want to turn up their volume, or even don’t have speakers or headphones on their computer. They’re for people who just want a transcript or subtitling because it makes their lives easier today. (For example, I have an ear infection and subtitles are the order of the day.)

Every political party in Canada “cares” about “the disabled”. They really do. Each one has a little subsection of their website dedicated to explaining how they “care” about “the disabled”.

I think it would be awesome instead of telling me how much they cared, they’d show it. And one way of doing that would be subtitling their ads, so everyone can know what their message is.


  1. This is what gets me. Not just that they can’t be bothered to caption the videos (which is bad enough), but that they can’t even be bothered to look at the auto-captions to see how egregious they are, much less actually download and correct them. Because yeah, “why does is Stephen Harper dead”? Not exactly the message I think you want to be conveying, NDP.

    Oh, and another advantage of transcripts? They make the content accessible to people without broadband access. This may be due to poverty; it may also be because someone lives in an area of the country with no broadband services. Last I checked, these people still counted as constituents!

  2. That’s one of the things I’ve pointed out in at least one of my emails. I must admit, though, at this point I just want everyone involved to be publicly called on the carpet for their incompetence, but really – access to information is a privilege that people should shut up and be grateful for. Or so the federal government reminds me when they go to court to ensure they don’t have to make their websites accessible to screen readers.

  3. Oh, and something I always do when I e-mail orgs to complain about the dismal auto-captioning on their videos? I actually provide quotes, so that they can see just how nonsensical the video is for someone who depends on captioning.

    One of the orgs in question? The US Treasury, which posted a bunch of videos about their upcoming banknote redesign, but didn’t bother to properly caption any of them. Perhaps the crowning moment of funny in the auto-captions was “These US government agencies have to stay ahead of catheters”, though “verify a fan of Israel” was pretty good too.

    Not that this goes any further in convincing them to correct it, though. Those Treasury videos? Still only have the uncorrected auto-captions.

  4. I have a friend who uploads YouTube videos, and I’ve been telling him over and over again: “if you care about everyone being able to understand this, you must upload your own captions”. Guess the message just isn’t important enough for that.

  5. Hey Anna,

    I’m not going to make excuses for any politicians but I know a few things are true: Technology is scary and transcribing takes work. Combine these two things into “let’s use social media to engage the public” and you end up with inaccessible messages from the PM on YouTube and ridiculous captions.

    Hi. My name is Emma and I’m the Science and Technology critic, and federal candidate in a rural riding, for the Green Party of Canada and I know that inaccessible Web sites suck. I’ve dropped a note to our staff and will figure out how to add captions to the clips that exist and see if we can, in future, at least co-publish speech notes when the video is posted. I did this for my nomination speech back in August and I think it worked well: http://www.emmajane.net/positively-excited (my notes were published right after the event and a few days later the video was uploaded for those who wanted rich media).

    You’re right: It doesn’t solve the problem for people who find clips on YouTube first. I’ll let you know as soon as the Green Party has fixed this problem for our own content.

    Thanks for the kick and I look forward to getting this fixed.

  6. Hi Emma Jane! We have an awesome friend in common.

    I know transcription takes work because I do it quite often for free, and also used to do it professionally. (I’m currently a student.) The thing with these ads, though, is they’re not being generated off the top of the head of the person doing them – they’re scripted. It’s not straight transcription work, it’s using the tools of YouTube or DotSub to upload the script.

    I would love to see the Green Party work on the accessibility of their website. This is the Wave Report for the Green Party website. Wave is a program offered by WebAIM to assess web accessibility of a website. While the Green Party’s site isn’t the worst by any means, it’s certainly not impressive in terms of accessibility-related issues.

    This is such an uphill battle. I don’t want to signal the Greens out by any means (my MP is NDP and I write her about this often), but it’s just so hard for me to believe that people actually care when the tools to make their website and their advertisements accessible is a simple internet search away, and yet.

    Good luck – I hear you have just recently become the Science & Technology critic for the Greens. I hope it goes well for you!

  7. @Emma Jane: You could always add a link to the notes in an annotation or in the video description. I see that done a lot on YouTube, actually.

  8. I think you’ll find that people *do* care! The Wave review shows a few minor fixes that need to be made on the Green Party home page–some of which extend into the inner pages because of templates. We’ll try and get the fixes rolled out ASAP. I’ve also started a discussion with the team about creating a checklist to make sure future media hits are as accessible as possible from the moment they’re released. If you know of a WCAG-For-Politicians Primer (or you’d like to help me write one) please ping me. I think this could be of huge value to *all* parties…and citizens. 🙂

  9. Along the lines of what Emma Jane said, I agree that technology is scary and transcribing takes work. It’s often (though not always!) easier to do the nonaccessible thing. And when you’re disabled yourself, and life is harder/functioning takes more work, this can be daunting. I know there are many blogs I don’t post and/or don’t finish because the work of captioning and providing a text description can be exhausting, and it’s hard enough to get a post out in the first place.

    However, as someone whose access depends on other people switching to nontoxic products, showering and changing clothes to visit me, etc., I know *I* don’t like the “it’s too much work” argument, so I do feel like, for social justice, kindness, and the greater good, I suck it up and do the hard thing. It’s the right thing. Sometimes disabilities conflict, and then you just do the best you can.

    There is also the fact that youtube’s captioning software sucks, and it is sometimes literally impossible for someone without advanced technical expertise and equipment to make it work.

    I know that watching TV with captions, when it’s real-time captioning, they often suck, too. (I am hearing, but always watch with captions, if they are provided, due to cognitive issues.) It does make me angry when pre-recorded stuff is not captioned or captioned in a way that doesn’t make sense.

    HOWEVER, as you pointed out, Anna, these are paid ads, politicians, and they certainly have way more technical expertise, money, people, and technology to make it work. So, that’s quite a different ball of wax. They really have NO excuse.

    Lastly, I wanted to take the opportunity to mention that anyone who wants to caption their videos should go to dotsub.com. Dotsub makes it easy to caption videos, and much better, than youtube. It was actually Anna who told me about it and now I use it for captioning at my own blog. You can upload videos from youtube to dotsub or post your own videos there directly. It’s a great site/tool.