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Accessible Podcasts

How One Minnesota State Agency is Reaching a Larger Audience

11/20/2019 2:56:05 PM

A microphone with the word Podcast setting in front of a computer showing audio waveforms.

By: Claire Gahler, Content Strategist with the Minnesota Department of Human Services

*tap tap tap* Is this thing on? *tap tap*

Oh, hey! I’m just tuning up my imaginary microphone, setting sound levels and making sure I’m ready to record. You know, for my snazzy new podcast.


Okay, not really. But I am here to chat about podcasts and how creating an accessible podcast is totally doable.

People listen to podcasts. According to the Pew Research Center, 32% of Americans listened to a podcast in the past month. That’s up from just 9% in 2008!

The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast has also substantially increased over the last decade. As of 2019, 51% of Americans ages 12 or older have ever listened to a podcast, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital survey data, and 32% have listened to a podcast in the past month, up from 26% in 2018 and just 9% in 2008. Furthermore, 22% of those 12 and older said they have listened to a podcast in the last week, up from 7% when this was first measured in 2013.

Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet
Pew Research Center - July 9, 2019

In 2017, a few of us at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thought it was time to explore the world of podcasting. Megan, a regional ecologist, and Jessica, a research scientist, wanted to share their love of all things prairie. They pitched an idea for a podcast with a focus on prairie conservation, restoration, and management. Our expert voices were on board! Next we needed technical help. Dan, an information officer at the DNR, offered to be our tech resource. He finessed the recorded audio and prepped the files for distribution.

With our tech squared away, we focused on promoting the podcast. We created a website with the audio files for download and worked with the DNR’s Digital Media Coordinator on a social media plan. The Prairie Pod podcast was ready to make its debut!

*record screech*

Wait! What about accessibility?!

As with all good projects, accessibility should begin at the start of your project. Say it with me – incorporate accessibility at the start of a project. Twenty percent of the American population lives with some degree of hearing loss (from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Living with Hearing Loss video). Remember when I mentioned 32% of Americans listened to a podcast in the past month? Consider how much higher this could be by making podcasts accessible to the 20% of the population living with hearing loss!

The first questions we asked, focused on how to create an accessible podcast. What does that mean? What are the requirements? What did we have to do to make our podcast accessible?

The answer? Not much.

  • We needed an accessible website to host the podcast – check.
  • We needed a useable media player – check.
  • We needed an accessible transcript of the audio – ummm, well, not yet.

At first glance, the idea of transcribing over 45 minutes of audio was daunting. But because we built accessibility into the start of our project, we were able to create a timeline that allowed space for transcription.

For our first season, we stayed in-house and gathered a crew to help transcribe eight 45-minute episodes, planning three to four hours per episode. This number could be higher if you’re not familiar with the technical language. We had additional time at the start as we learned best practices. We needed to identify each speaker and note any background noise (like chirping birds). It is important that anyone reading the transcript would have a similar experience to those listening to the audio.

We added additional time to make the transcripts documents accessible. We started in Word using an accessible template and once the transcript was finalized, we converted it to a PDF via Word’s plug-ins. As with all PDFs, there were a few minor updates that needed to be done to get a fully accessible PDF.

A quick note – some podcasters recommend embedding the transcript into the web page as web text (versus a separate document like a Word or PDF file). This can help ensure readability, as long as your web page is properly formatted for accessibility, so it can be accessed by users of assistive technology. As an added bonus, it’s great for search engine optimization, too!

I know, I know. This sounds extreme for a 45-minute podcast. But we believe in the information we’re sharing. And we believe in the importance of access for all. Plus, transcripts provide plenty of added benefits:

  • a printable document to reference later,
  • a boost to appear in online searches,
  • an additional opportunity to review the content before going live, to name just a few.

In July 2018, we shared our first episode of the Prairie Pod podcast – How to Grow a Prairie from Scratch. Along with the audio, there was a transcript of the episode, a list of resources, and suggestions for prairies to visit.

This summer we kicked off our second season. And again, we talked accessibility in our prep meetings. We wanted to use a transcription service but we needed funding. With the successful launch of season one, we were able to build a case to leadership for support (i.e. funding) to move forward with season two.

To pull a successfully accessible podcast off, timing was key. Episodes needed to be recorded well in advance of the July launch to allow time for the transcription service to do their work and allow time for us to review the transcripts. With technical jargon, it was important our experts reviewed each transcript to make any clarifications. It was far less time than keeping the work in-house, but we still weren’t completely hands-off.

We are excited with the positive feedback for the Prairie Pod and we learned so much about the world of podcasting through this experience. As with everything, the more you do the better you get. I hope we’ll have many more seasons of the Prairie Pod AND maybe a few new podcasts to enjoy!


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