According to the Edison Research Infinite Dial report more than half of the US population listened to a podcast in 2020, and the number of people listening to podcasts grew by 16%. As more people turn to podcasts as a source of information and entertainment, ensuring equal access to this content becomes all the more important. As an audio-based medium, podcasts can present some specific challenges, but these can be approached and overcome by following the best practices for delivering accessible time-based media.
If you’re in the process of creating a new podcast, you have an excellent opportunity to be intentional about accessibility from the start. Use this chance to create a sustainable, comprehensive plan and do research to understand some of the accessibility challenges your future audience may encounter. If you’re working on improving accessibility to an existing podcast, ask your audience to get insight on ways to improve their experience, and use that along with the existing guidelines to update your production plan and practices.
With a plan in place, producing accessible podcasts starts with the audio itself. Maximize audio quality by using quality equipment and recording in a small, quiet space. If possible, use a space with many soft surfaces, or add soft items to help dampen unwanted sounds.
Be intentional about mixing. Background tracks and audio effects can create distractions and make the main content difficult to hear, focus on, and process, so avoid using them when they don’t add anything. In cases where audio does need to be mixed, make sure the main content is at least 20 decibels louder than any background audio.
Training and developing one’s voice as a podcaster is a process, but make an effort to speak clearly, at a moderate pace, and — in the case of multiple speakers — avoid speaking over one another. Be mindful of the language you use to ensure your message is respectful and inclusive. Additionally, stick to a consistent format and use recognizable cues when appropriate to improve the accessibility of your podcast.
There are many layers to audio accessibility, but having high-quality audio will help create a better experience for a wide range of people.
Being diligent about audio quality can improve accessibility to your podcast for many, but some members of your audience may need an additional or alternative way to access your content.
A transcript is a word-for-word text version of your podcast’s audio and is an essential alternative to offer your audience. As with the audio itself, deliver transcripts in a consistent format. Use timestamps throughout and include descriptions for non-vocal content as well. Having things like audio cues well-described in transcripts can help create the same consistent experience you aim to create with the audio.
There are tools and services for creating transcripts, and while an automated tool may be more efficient, human-generated transcripts are likely to be a lot more accurate, so it’s worth the extra time or cost required to create one. Once created, these transcripts can be used to write comprehensive show notes, will make your content more searchable, and can improve the reach of your content overall.
Video can also be used to create a more engaging experience for those who need an alternative to pure audio. Audiograms, for example, often feature a static image in the background and captions to accompany the audio. A default image can be used, or illustrative images selected or created specifically for the content can help create a more immersive experience. If you record video as part of your production process you can also caption that video to provide an alternative to the audio-only version. If you do decide to provide a video-based version of your podcast, make sure to follow video best practices.
Beyond the content of the podcast itself, there are a few other things to be mindful about. Making sure your podcast is distributed across a number of platforms will help provide users with more choices and improve their chances of being able to access your content.
Finally, make sure your website is accessible. Your website should provide access to transcripts and other alternatives, an accessible media player, and an option to download episodes so they can play them using their preferred media player or device if desired.
Taking these steps to deliver an accessible podcast will help create a better experience for your audience and help it grow as your message is able to reach more people.