Podcast accessibility: What you need to know

By: Verbit Editorial

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Experts predict that more 500 million people around the world will be tuning in to podcasts over the course of 2024, and that number is only expected to continue growing. Podcasting offers content creators, business owners and thought leaders another opportunity to connect with their audiences, which is why so many professionals are making podcasts part of their go-to strategies.

However, one major factor that often gets overlooked is how accessible podcasts are to the intended listeners. When producing and distributing a podcast, hosts should take into account their audience’s needs to engage fully and equally with audio and video content. Failing to account for the diverse needs of your audience is a sure-fire way to curtail your podcast’s growth while alienating valuable members of your community. Thankfully, with the right tools, resources and partnerships, podcast creators can take advantage of technologies like captioning and transcription to make their content accessible and engaging for more subscribers.

What is podcast accessibility?

Podcasting is a unique content offering in that it is typically an audio-centric medium that listeners can access anywhere and at any time using their smartphones. Podcasts are great for audience members who want to consume content on the go or those who like to multitask while listening.

However, audio-only content is not accessible to individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Roughly 15% of adults in the US report having some difficulty hearing, so overlooking the needs of audience members with hearing loss has the potential to significantly impede your podcast’s reach. 

Creating accessible content isn’t just about broadening your audience, though; it’s about inclusivity. If your podcast isn’t accessible, your messaging isn’t equitable. We’re now seeing podcast producers post video versions of their recorded episodes along with captions and transcripts so that all can follow along and retain the information effectively. Popular podcasts like “What Now?” with Trevor Noah and “The Viall Files” post full videos of each episode, while others like NPR post YouTube versions with simple image thumbnails. Either option allows for opportunities for greater accessibility and engagement to be offered.

A microphone and headset and assorted wires sit on a table.

How to make your podcasts accessible

It’s important to consider not just the needs of those who are Deaf or hard of hearing for equity, but the needs of audience members with auditory processing disorders, ADHD and those who are neurodivergent as well.

Captioning and transcribing your podcasts are two great solutions to help make your content more accessible. Let’s take a closer look at each of these assistive technologies and explore how podcasters can use them to better support the diverse needs of their growing audiences.

Podcast transcription

Transcription is perhaps the most popular assistive technology for supporting podcast content. It provides a comprehensive written account of a podcast’s original audio track. While some will choose to edit down their transcripts, others opt for verbatim transcripts that are meticulously crafted to account for every detail and audio component of an original podcast recording. When supplied with the video of the podcast episode, audiences with and without hearing loss can enjoy these additional visual elements and better comprehend.

In addition to supporting audience members who have disabilities or are neurodivergent, podcast transcripts can be a valuable marketing tool for brands and creators with online followings. In fact, posting full transcripts of your podcasts online can boost your content’s overall SEO ranking by making the dialogue of your podcast episodes discoverable by search engines and their algorithms.

Podcast transcripts can also be translated into multiple languages and shared to expand your global reach. Creators who offer podcast content in multiple languages are better equipped to support diverse subscriber bases and can expand the reach of their message and brand globally.

Captioning for video podcasts

As mentioned, it’s been positive to see how many podcast creators are embracing the idea of shooting video of their podcast interviews and episodes. Podcasters are seeing great benefit in posting their episodes with videos on platforms like Spotify and YouTube. In fact, recent studies suggest that YouTube is currently the most popular podcast platform among US podcast listeners.

Video podcasts on their own aren’t the answer to accessibility, but when posted with captions or transcripts, can be a great way to include more audience members.

Captioning refers to the process of converting audio spoken during an episode to on-screen text that plays in sync with the video. Even better, closed captioning enables viewers to watch with or disable the captions as they see fit. Giving audience members choice is a great accessibility practice.

Captions make it easy for audience members to follow along with a video’s audio track in real time and are a tried-and-true solution for improving the all-around accessibility of video content. In addition to supporting audience members with disabilities, captioning is a valuable tool for anyone consuming content in public spaces or other environments where they may not be able to watch videos with the sound on.

Shot from the point of view of a woman looking down at her cell phone, the woman holds a phone in her left hand and we can see white headphone wires and a white pair of shoes

The risks of inaccessibility

The benefits of incorporating accessibility into your podcast efforts are far-ranging and apparent. But what happens if you don’t invest in inclusive practices? In our increasingly digital world, online accessibility is now recognized as a non-negotiable requirement for individuals and brands looking to establish themselves. The threshold of forgiveness for offering an inaccessible experience is much lower now.

There are also many different legal standards and guidelines with which creators must familiarize themselves to ensure they remain compliant. Failing to take these necessary steps not only reflects negatively on your brand but can lead to legal action and burdensome fines.

How can I be sure my podcast is accessible?

The best way to ensure your podcast content is accessible to audience members of different backgrounds and abilities is to consider all of the different ways you post and distribute your episodes. If you’re unclear where to start, you can work with a professional provider like Verbit. Verbit specializes in producing accurate captions and transcripts for a wide variety of media formats, including audio and video podcasts.

Verbit’s team understands the requirements outlined by accessibility guidelines like the Americans with Disabilities Act and WCAG to help its partners to meet them. Verbit also offers advanced artificial intelligence that can be trained on your specific podcast content and topics to automatically generate captions and transcripts of the highest possible quality.

Whether you’re currently producing a ton of podcast episodes or are just diving in, it’s never too late to consider accessibility needs. If you’re interested in learning more about how Verbit’s captioning and transcription tools can help you boost the accessibility of your podcast, reach out today.