How to Find the Right Accessibility Partner

Public Relations and Communications Manager
VITAC

Every television executive and producer wants their show to be the newest buzz-worthy (and binge-worthy) program and the hot topic of discussion around the water cooler. But in order for that buzz to begin, it’s important that everyone be able to take part in the conversation.

Inclusion and accessibility continue to be important subjects, with companies and industries around the world expanding their focus on developing accessible products and solutions. From a media and entertainment perspective, there are a number of things that producers can do to make their shows more accessible to their audience, including captioning the content for those in the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) community, and providing audio description for people who are blind or with low vision.

Captioning is a textual display of the audio portion of video programming, regardless of whether that program is viewed on a television, tablet, or mobile device. Audio description is an audible representation of onscreen video for people who are blind or with low vision to experience video, much in the same way that captions provide a visual way for DHOH individuals to experience sound.

Captions and audio description ensure that all viewers have equal access to — and equal enjoyment of — everything a show has to offer.

Reach All of Your Audience

The Federal Communications Commission has outlined comprehensive rules for TV closed captioning to ensure that all viewers have full access to programming.

The FCC rules require that almost everything on traditional TV must be captioned and specifically sets forth quality standards for closed captions, including that captions need to be accurate, complete, properly placed, and in-synch with the corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extend possible.

The FCC also mandates a set number of hours of audio described content on primetime or children’s programming on the major broadcast networks as well as the top five cable networks.

And though FCC regulations apply to traditional television broadcasts, many streaming content producers and platforms have taken it upon themselves to caption and describe their shows, or require that shows appearing on the platform are captioned and audio described.

What to Look for in an Accessibility Partner

Though there are many behind-the-scenes components that make up good captioning, subtitling, and audio description, securing professional accessibility services doesn’t need to be stressful.

A simple way to ensure that your programs are hitting their accessibility marks (and their largest audience) is to work with a professional accessibility provider. Working with an experienced captioning and audio description provider can save time, simplify workflows, eliminate stresses, and, in many instances, reduce costs.

Working with an experienced captioning and audio description provider can save time, simplify workflows, eliminate stresses, and, in many instances, reduce costs.

Experienced providers understand the industry (and the shifting deadlines, quick turnarounds, and fire drills that go along with it), and often have answers to questions before they’re even asked. They work as a partner, and can walk you through all of the processes and requirements.

There are a number of video accessibility vendors out there, and you want to make sure to choose one that best fits your needs.

Aspects to consider before signing your accessibility partner:

Service Offerings

Does the provider offer a full range of services — captioning, audio description, subtitles, and transcripts? Do they offer captions for live and prerecorded content? Do they have industry experience?

Quality

Does the provider guarantee accuracy, and meet FCC captioning standards and audio description guidelines? Are the captions created by human transcribers or by automatic speech recognition (ASR) programs? If human, what sort of training do captioners receive? If ASR, what sort of training does the engine receive? What sort of quality control does the provider offer? Do the captions include sound effects, lyrics, speaker IDs, and appropriate punctuation (as required by the FCC)?

Ordering

It’s important to understand how you send files to the vendor and how you receive the completed work. Can the files be uploaded or sent directly to the vendor? Is the upload secure? Can you download the finished files just as easily? Will someone walk you through the process?

Workflow

How are the deliverables created? What is their process for creating captions and audio description? Can they deliver the finished files in different formats (such as .scc, .cap, .asc, .srt, .vtt and TTML /SMPTE-TT formats)? For live captioning, how do they ensure uptime and resolve discrepancies?

Flexibility

Can the vendor work on tight deadlines and meet quick turnaround times (4-day, 2-day, 1-day, 8-hr, 4-hr, 2-hr)? Do they have the staff and capacity to handle rush projects?

Cost/Billing

Costs can fluctuate depending on the size of the project, services needed, and turnaround time, among other things. Are there any additional fees? How does the vendor handle its billing and invoicing?

Customer Support

Will the vendor be available for technical support and any questions that come up during the ordering process or once the final files have been delivered? Is customer support on-call 24/7? What’s the best way to connect the vendor — email, phone, or online chat?

Experience

Has the vendor done this work before? Do they understand the industry? Are they familiar with FCC rules and requirements?

Another big perk is that larger providers typically offer a broad range of services — captioning, description, subtitling, dubbing, and foreign language translation — thereby eliminating the need to go the piecemeal route and search for different services from different companies.

Larger providers typically offer a broad range of services… thereby eliminating the need to go the piecemeal route and search for different services from different companies.

Getting all of your accessibility needs from one provider means working with one point of contact and one billing department, and most importantly, receiving consistent quality in a single workflow from deliverable to deliverable and from project to project. Using one vendor for captioning and audio description often saves money, as many offer volume discounts for larger projects or when customers order multiple services.

It’s important to do your research when choosing an accessibility vendor. Choosing an experienced, reliable, and professional provider can go a long way toward ensuring your content finds its entire audience and creates a bigger buzz.

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