digital accessibility zoom media

The quest for improved Digital Accessibility

What is accessibility?

Digital Accessibility refers to designing devices, products, and environments such that individuals with disabilities or sensory impairments can successfully use the device or product. Although the concept of digital accessibility refers specifically to digital media, it’s not much different from the general idea of accessibility. For example Websites must be navigable by keyboard for users who may not be able to operate a mouse, or Videos (on websites) are closed-captioned for individuals with hearing impairments.
I would like to discuss digital accessibility when it comes to content creation. It’s a tricky issue, because it touches the very fabric of what is to be expected and what we can actually expect and what we should expect from our content creators. Video as a means of communication is becoming increasingly important. Apart from the traditional broadcasters, vloggers now take an important position in the content creation landscape and also companies turn to video more and more to spread their message.

Digital accessibility and the Netherlands

The Dutch government has stated that public broadcasters are obligated to subtitle all their content. This poses a challenge because at the same time those same public broadcasters are forced to cut down their budgets with millions altogether. So, in short, cut down your budgets but offer more accessibility as well. You can imagine, there is some healthy stress about.
Let’s analyze the situation. The Dutch government has accepted a decree, stating that all digital content should be made accessible to everyone, including the deaf and hard of hearing. The good thing about Dutch government, is when a decree such as this is issued, it doesn’t mean you immediately receive a fine if you don’t comply. Time is given to adjust to the situation. The result is that public broadcasters are searching for, looking at and testing with all the possibilities which already exist out there to help them solve this challenge.

Digital accessibility for (online) content

The number of (online) videos has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Vloggers, governments and companies alike are continuously looking for ways to better spread their message across this ‘new’ channel. Digital accessibility is equally important in this respect as it is to the traditional broadcasters and there are multiple reasons to pursue better accessibility. The main reason is that (online) content creators can reach a much greater audience by adding closed captions to their content. Think of it, when you’re in the train or in a waiting room you usually have your device muted when you watch a video. When closed captions are missing, you will scroll through to the next video. For people that are deaf or hard of hearing this is even more the case. And last but not least, adding closed captions to your videos contributes to SEO. Since search engines these days are indexed based on text, having closed captions added to your videos means you’ll get a better ranking (in a nutshell).

Digital accessibility in the Philippines

On the other side of the planet, broadcasters are confronted with a similar challenge. Zoom Media has recently started creating a Speech Recognition Model for the Filipino language. Now why would a Dutch based Speech Recognition company do so you might ask? The answer is simple, the need is there. In the Philippines a similar law has been adopted which states that all broadcast content should be accessible for everyone. It is in light of this situation that Microsoft APAC and Zoom Media found each other and together decided to build a Speech Recognition model which would work in real-time, to help solve the question of live subtitling for all Filipino content. Of course, the results wouldn’t be perfect, but what the model provides should be enough for all viewers to understand the content.

Learnings

What can we learn from these challenges? On the one hand there is stress. What to do? What should we choose? Where to begin? On the other hand there are great opportunities right in front of us and there are people who act on those opportunities. Those that have the guts to say steps need to be taken, so let’s actually try out the latest technology. Now a combination of the two would be ideal. Do not shy away from technological innovation, but also, don’t choose the first thing that comes to mind. Make a useful combination, test, try out, compare, integrate with your existing systems and after that actually make your choice and start integrating something that works. As a company we’re proud to be at the forefront of this type of innovation, both in our home country and abroad.

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