Dear TEDx: Captions, please

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I’ve never done the open letter thing. But today, I was suddenly super duper motivated. So here’s my very first ever open letter. If you can get behind this, please share widely. That’s why I’m doing this open letter style. Because it pertains to more than just the recipient, TEDx.

Dear TEDx:

Lately, I have been watching some remarkable talks on your YouTube channel. Mic Crenshaw, Jes Sachse, and today, Stella Young. I’ve seen others in the past. But I’m feeling like saying I think we need to stop watching them until you make them inclusive for audiences. I know that TEDx events are independently organized. And the presence of speakers from a variety of backgrounds and cultures is showing us that you’re inclusive in who gets the platform. However, please don’t forget us, your audience watching on computers.

You see, I went to watch Stella today and scrolled down to the comments. I always like to see how disabled presenters are received in the larger community, especially on her topic. It’s one of my favorites:  quit calling disabled people inspirational for leaving the house and doing nothing interesting. I found this comment:

“As a deaf person, I am really frustrated and disappointed that this video does not have properly done captions. It only has the automated captions which I never bother with because those are generally really awful. Deaf people, too, get told we are “inspirational” for doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with our disability. So I would really be interested in hearing another woman’s perspective on all this and wish I could watch this video. PLEASE put CAPTIONS on this video. It is disturbing that a presentation by a disabled woman on an issue that impacts all people with all disabilities has not already been captioned.”

TEDx, really? Because then I went to your Channel’s page, and guess what I found. A video called “TED and TEDx Explained” uploaded two years ago. It has nearly perfect closed captions. And the opening contains these lines: “Getting access to great ideas hasn’t always been easy….The internet has made sharing ideas a breeze. And no one is doing it better than TED.” The video goes on to say that volunteers translate the videos so people all around can access them. Your volunteer pool might be doing an incredible job providing translations in multiple languages, but you are leaving out many, many people by neglecting to caption them in the language in which they are originally delivered as well.

Until you find a way to provide your esteemed speakers–and especially speakers with disabilities who are likely to draw audiences of people with access needs–you’re not spreading your ideas worth spreading to everyone with equity. Many deaf, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people rely on captions to even have the bare minimum of access to a video. Cognitively-impaired people like myself need them sometimes. Language learners might really enjoy reading along to bolster their learning.

I’m a filmmaker. I caption all my films. I’m the first to acknowledge that the technology is ridiculous and the process very time-consuming. Very, very time-consuming. And yet to me it’s simply part of filmmaking.

Please get all the presentations on your YouTube channel captioned. Your audience will grow tremendously because those of us dedicated to captioning will signal boost you. And that is when your ideas worth spreading will genuinely have been spread.

Thank you,