Sveta Kouznetsova talks about the importance of transcripts and captions

Sveta tells us “We are often told that bad captions are better than nothing, but they cause cognitive dissonance for us [deaf folks].”


Thanks to Tenon for sponsoring the transcript for this episode.


Nic: Hi, I’m Nic Steenhout. You’re listening to the Accessibility Rules Soundbite, a series of short podcasts where people with disabilities explain their impairments and what barriers they encounter on the web. Thanks to Tenon for sponsoring the transcript for this episode. Tenon provide accessibility as a service. They offer testing, training, and tooling to help fix accessibility fast.

Nic: Today I’m talking with Svetlana Kouznetsova. Hi Sveta!

Sveta: Hi Nic – nice meeting you!

Nic: Nice meeting you, Sveta. We’ve been talking on twitter a bit so it’s nice to meet you.

Nic: For our audience out there, I should explain how we’re doing this. Sveta is deaf, so we’re typing back and forth and my colleague Emily Lewis is Sveta’s voice. This is an interesting way do podcasting. There’s always a way to figure out how to make things happen.

Nic: Sveta, could you tell us a bit about your disability, if you even consider it a disability?

Sveta: There are several words. Some people use “impairment”, some use “disability”. I personally don’t like the word “impairment”. And so do many other people with disabilities. I prefer “disability” to “impairment”. We feel that it’s part of medical model of disability and the word was coined by nondisabled folks who look at us as broken or defective and in need to be fixed.

Nic: Amen.

Sveta: For example, we deaf people don’t like to be called “hearing impaired” or hear word “hearing impairment”. Even international organizations of deaf and hard of hearing people made the agreement not to use the word “hearing impairment”. My disability is deafness. I have been profoundly deaf in both ears since the age 2 – after contracting meningitis. I grew up wearing hearing aids and got a cochlear implant 21 years ago. Due to several reasons I’m not going in detail here due to the time limit, I can recognize only environmental sounds with my cochlear implant and cannot understand speech by listening only.

Nic: Thank you for that 🙂

Sveta: I can speak, but I have limited l lipreading abilities and can lipread only certain people and cannot follow group conversations. Lipreading gives only about 30% of visual information and the rest is lots of guesswork.

Nic: It might be interesting at some point to explore that because most people don’t understand cochlear implants.

Sveta: So it’s frustrating for me when people ask me if I can lipread – especially after I ask them to write down what they say.

Sveta: Captions, written information, and sign language provide me more access to verbal communication and aural information.

Nic: That’s not the first time I hear that from someone who is deaf.

Sveta: Talking about cochlear implant will take a lot of time. 🙂

Nic: So we’re talking about web accessibility today. What would you say is the biggest barrier you encounter on the web?

Sveta: For me, a deaf person, it’s a lack of proper captions and transcripts for aural content. Like videos, podcasts, webinars, etc. It’s especially frustrating when non-disabled people talk about accessibility yet don’t make their content accessible for us deaf and hard of hearing people. Also there are different types of captioning access that follow different sets of quality guidelines and provided by different types of specialists. For example, live captions are not the same as video captions and transcripts. Many people think that auto captions and speech technologies solve those problems, but they are not an acceptable accessibility solution.

Nic: Craptions!

Sveta: We are often told that bad captions are better than nothing, but they cause cognitive dissonance for us. In the same way bad audio makes hearing people feel frustrated. We won’t tell them that bad audio is better than no audio, right? 🙂

Nic: That’s a powerful statement.

Sveta: For those reasons, I provide consulting on captioning access to media and event producers and have a team of captioners provide live captions in real time for events and offline captions and transcripts for online media such as videos and podcasts. I gave a TEDx talk about captioning and wrote a book on this topic. My book is currently undergoing revisions for a second edition.

Nic: Awesome.

Nic: What is a less obvious barrier you encounter on the web, apart from captions and transcripts?

Sveta: I would say color contrast issue – even though I’m not color blind myself. Or font is too small to read.

Nic: I’ve heard some Deaf folks talk about grammar and language being different and complex English sentences making them trip. Is that something you’ve experienced yourself?

Sveta: My first language is Russian. English is my third and American sign language is my fifth. Not all deaf people are the same.

Nic: Oh! That’s funny. English is my 4th language.

Sveta: Languages are not hard for me. My issue is accessing aural information – regardless of a language spoken. In my case it would be Russian and English.

Nic: Thank you for that clarification.

Sveta: I was not born deaf so my first language is spoken and I was raised to speak and lipread. I learned sign languages later in my life. So I’m not a native signer – though I’m fluent in American sign language.

Nic: I think that’s an important distinction to make. Most people realize the differences.

Nic: If there was a message you’d like web designers and developers to know and think about accessibility, what would it be?

Sveta: It’s important not to just talk about accessibility but also to practice it. Accessibility is not one time thing to check off but an ongoing process involving all team members who have certain skills to contribute.

Nic: I like that.

Sveta: Accessibility needs to be baked in from the beginning and maintained all the time.

Nic: Yes!

Sveta: It also means that captions and transcripts need to be provided before media is published, not after – so that deaf and hard of hearing people have access to the content at the same time as everyone else. Many businesses think that automated tools are enough to resolve accessibility issues, but they cannot catch more than half of accessibility issues. So you will need to combine automated tools with manual testing and knowledge of WCAG. It’s especially important to involve experts with disabilities in product development. Because we have first hand daily experience with disability.

Nic: Yes!

Sveta: I provide consulting services on user experience and accessibility – to business owners, media producers, event organizers, corporations, educational institutions – to help them better understand needs of disabled people and to improve accessibility of their products, services, events.

Nic: Nothing about us without us, right?

Sveta: Yes that! 🙂

Sveta: I use that phrase quite often. 🙂

Nic: It’s powerful phrase. 🙂 Sveta, thank you for participating in this short podcast. I think people listening (and reading the transcripts), will learn a lot. 🙂

Sveta: Thank you Nic for having me. And it was a pleasure chatting with you. 🙂