Category Archives: Reaching Readers

Q&A With Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett: Open Access and Engaging in Global Conversations

Posted February 4, 2020
Cynthia Willett, Uproarious book cover, and Julie Willett

As a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Cynthia Willett, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University and Julie Willett, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University.

In their new book Uproarious: How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth, Willett and Willett address theories of humor through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements.

Uproarious is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license, supported by Emory University as part of the TOME initiative and can also be purchased in print form.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make Uproarious openly available?

Cynthia Willett & Julie Willett: Our reconceptualization of humor draws from feminist stand-ups and other post-9/11-era comics. Just as our claims are driven by popular culture, we think open access too helps us engage in global conversations. In an era with the fortunes of academics and educational institutions caught up in growing social inequality, we also hope that open access allows our research to be more accessible not only to students at elite institutions but also to those who lack resources yet often drive the conversations on trending fields like humor.

AuAll: Did your audience and/or the subject matter of your research influence your decision to publish openly?

CW & JW: As a philosopher and a historian, we began this project hoping to reach out to a larger audience across academic disciplines and to general interest readers. The book addresses a topic of heightened relevance at a time when a twitter joke can shift the political climate overnight. At a time when so much of our political culture is driven by comedy and comedy both as an art form and a tool of politics is driven by the internet and social media, open access couldn’t seem more relevant.

AuAll: Before this book project what was your impression of open access publishing?

CW & JW: We tended to associate open access with cutting edge work in the sciences and we are excited to be part of this expansion into the humanities.

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

CW & JW: Perhaps the most unexpected result has been the contacts and conversations we are having with stand-up comedians who help us think about the new directions for this field of study. We have also enjoyed wider interest for our work from the media, including an interview on Free Speech TV.

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned and/or other suggestions for authors?

CW & JW: Co-authorship made the entire process more creative and joyful. Coupled with the added benefit of working across disciplines we strive to communicate our ideas free of jargon. Moreover, the topic of our book arises from beyond the academic context and we attempted to frame the book in terms of that wider political concern.

Authors Alliance Supports Immediate Access to Federally Funded Research

Posted December 20, 2019
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Media sources report that the Trump Administration is considering a policy to make the results of federally funded research immediately available for the public to freely access and use. Current policy requires results of federally funded research be made available in pre-print form within 12 months of publication. The rumored policy would eliminate the 12-month embargo. As an organization with a mission to advance the interests of authors who want to serve the public good by sharing their creations broadly, Authors Alliance strongly supports such a policy.

Many of our members are authors who rely on taxpayer dollars to fund their research and want the results of that research to be immediately available for potential readers to readily locate and access without being turned away by paywalls. Immediate and free online availability increases their works’ visibility, helping it to reach readers and benefit the public. Absent a federal policy, many authors simply do not have the bargaining power necessary to demand from publishers the level of access they want for their research. 

Removing barriers to access creates a more hospitable environment for future scientific advancements. Medical patients and their family members have especially compelling needs for this information. Many students, teachers, researchers, and other professionals from low- and middle-income countries struggle to get access to prohibitively expensive subscription-based journals. Even individuals at U.S.-based institutions may find that their libraries do not have the resources to subscribe to relevant journals in their fields. By removing price barriers, it is easier for students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners to access the information they need to learn, teach, research, and practice in their fields.

The rumored policy change does not require publishers to make the final version of articles based on federally funded research free—just for authors to make the pre-publication versions available. Publishers can still charge subscriptions for access to the final published version of these articles, not to mention all of the articles not funded by taxpayer dollars. Or publishers can charge for their value-added publishing services to those institutions who want professional peer review. By paying for publishing services rather than paying for the right to read, institutions can use their budgets to pay for publishing rather than for subscriptions, publishers can earn a living, and the public can then read taxpayer funded research without paying for the privilege.

A policy requiring the outputs of federally funded research be made immediately available would maximize the value of investment in research by ensuring that more readers can access research results than if the works were available through restricted means alone. For these reasons, Authors Alliance supports a policy that would ensure that the public is not made to pay both to create and to read research and would open up opportunities for others to build upon research, accelerating the pace of innovation and discovery.

Q&A with Calvin Warren: Open Access and Democratizing the Accessibility of Knowledge

Posted October 21, 2019
Calvin L. Warren (used with permission)

Open Access Week 2019 takes place from October 21-27. To mark the occasion, we’re featuring a series of Open Access Success Stories that shine the spotlight on noteworthy OA books, authors, and publishing models. Today’s post features Calvin L. Warren, Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. His book Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Duke University Press, 2018) examines how all humanism is based on investing blackness with nonbeing—a logic which reproduces antiblack violence and precludes any realization of equality, justice, and recognition for blacks. Ontological Terror is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license, supported by Emory University as part of the TOME initiative. We recently sat down with Professor Warren to discuss his decision to make Ontological Terror openly available.

Authors Alliance: Given that many (if not most) humanities monographs are still published via traditional channels, why did you choose open access publishing for Ontological Terror?

Calvin Warren: Unfortunately, academic knowledge is becoming increasingly inaccessible, and this “epistemological exclusivity” is resulting in disturbing patterns of asymmetry. Journals require membership to read current scholarship, and this financial barrier prevents students and scholars from resource poor institutions from acquiring information. The cost of academic books is equally exorbitant, reinforcing the dynamic that knowledge acquisition requires money. I’ve grown uncomfortable with this dynamic and had been searching for a mechanism to make my work more accessible to high school students, lay readers, community colleges, and institutions with limited resources. Open access provided such a mechanism and addressed the inequity of knowledge acquisition. Accessing my book for free has increased my readership and made it possible for black nihilism, as an idea, to expand its horizon.

AuAll: Did the subject matter of your research and/or your audience influence your decision to publish openly? If so, how?

CW: I’ve developed a philosophical perspective “black nihilism” that presents contemporary problems of black existence, anti black violence, and black suffering as deep philosophical issues. Because my work is in constant dialogue with the unceasing, ubiquitous, and regenerating problem of anti blackness, I wanted my work to reach as many people as possible—especially young people who live under the press of anti black terror. My subject matter required a platform widely accessible because people within and outside the academy were searching for answers to difficult questions.

AuAll: Before this book project, what was your impression of open access publishing?

CW: Open access was unfamiliar to me when I began my academic career, and I wish I’d known about it in graduate school. I do hope the [TOME] program recruits early career scholars, who are often producing the most provocative and groundbreaking work. I’m very grateful that Emory University invested time and resources for me to publish with open access.

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

CW: Open access has widened my readership, exposing my work to artists, scientists, ministers, politicians, people I hadn’t expected to read my work. When access is open, more democratic, ideas can travel without restriction. And this has been my experience.

AuAll: What advice do you have for scholarly authors who want to make their ideas widely available?

CW: My advice to any authors with important ideas, especially those that speak to contemporary concerns, is to consider open access. Make an appointment with open access staff and discuss the possibility of this platform. It will create unexpected opportunities. Also, publishers often consider the open access funds “book sales” so it reduces some pressure from young scholars who need book sales for career stability. In short, open access is a gift to the academy and will lead the way in democratizing knowledge accessibility.

Academic Authors Find Larger Audience through Controlled Digital Lending

Posted October 8, 2019

We thank the Internet Archive for permission to cross-post this piece on how controlled digital lending (“CDL”) can benefit academic authors, originally published on the Internet Archive Blogs. CDL is a model in which libraries digitize works in their collections and circulate the digitized title in place of a physical one. For more about CDL, check out our earlier coverage on the topic, including statements from authors in support of the model.

Robert Darnton

For Robert Darnton, the benefit of Controlled Digital Lending to academic authors is obvious: More people can read their work.

As the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and the University Librarian, Emeritus at Harvard University, Darnton has long been a champion of broadening access to information. He also sees the value of making materials more widely available when it comes to his own research outputs.

Darnton has made two of his books, which are both still in print, freely available online: Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Harvard University Press, 1968) and The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800 (Harvard University Press, 1979). Several other of his titles are available to borrow electronically through the Internet Archive’s Open Library.

Eventually, Darnton said he’d like all his titles to be digitized. “I feel it’s in my best interest to reach as large a public audience as I possibly can,” said Darnton. He believes the exposure online helps with the marketing of his books. Indeed, there was an increase in sales of Mesmerism once it was digitized.

Many academics don’t rely on books for income and it’s rare that royalties continue after a few years. “What authors want when that ceases is to reach readers. This is the best way to do it,” Darnton said. “CDL is a good system and a way to really improve people’s access to literature without harming anyone.”

In higher education, resources from one campus library to another can vary widely. Even at Harvard, Darnton said it’s not possible to make all books available—let alone small libraries with limited budgets. Libraries can benefit from interlibrary loans and digital lending can provide even greater relief from isolation for institutions without the means of expanding their collections.

“CDL can make an enormous difference, even for such privileged environments as Harvard,” Darnton said. “There is momentum behind CDL. It is not just the way to go, but the way things are going.”

Q&A With Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman on “Copyright Law: Cases and Materials”

Posted August 20, 2019

Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman of NYU Law School recently published their new casebook Copyright Law: Cases and Materials as an open access work. A PDF of the book is freely available to everyone to read and download under a Creative Commons license, and may also be purchased as a low-cost print-on-demand book. Instructors who register on the site can also access model syllabi and participate in a discussion forum.

In this Q&A, we asked them about publishing the casebook openly instead of as a traditional textbook, and the benefits of that decision.


Authors Alliance: Given the many incentives to publish textbooks via traditional channels, why did you choose open access for Copyright Law?

Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman: As law professors, we are concerned about the high price of law school textbooks. Many of our students are already taking on significant debt to fund their law school education. The high cost of commercially-published textbooks makes a tough situation worse. We wanted to see if we could provide a high-quality textbook, in both digital and print formats, that would provide professors and students with a free or low-cost option.

AuAll: How did you select which Creative Commons license to apply?

JF & CS: We chose a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) license. We selected a non-commercial license because we didn’t want people charging money for a book that we meant to be available for free (or, in printed form, at cost). And we selected a license that restricted derivatives because we did not want people altering our book to express views on copyright law that we would not endorse, while attributing those views (misleadingly) to us. Just to be clear, we are willing to approve most derivative works. For example, we are willing to approve derivatives that re-arrange our materials in ways that particular professors find helpful. All people have to do is email us, tell us what they want to do, and so long as we feel that it fairly represents our views, we’ll approve.

AuAll: What results do you see from publishing your books openly? What do you see as the pros and cons of embracing this model?

JF & CS: Since we released the book a few weeks ago, we’ve learned of adoptions by professors at Cardozo School of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Harvard Law School, National Law University Delhi, New York University School of Law, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Notre Dame Law School, Saint Louis University School of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, and William & Mary Law School. We are very grateful to the professors who have adopted it thus far.

The pros of publishing the book under a CC license are pretty obvious: we get the book out there at no cost for those who download it from our website and at very low cost for those who order a printed copy from Amazon. There another important benefit: we can update our book more frequently than is typical for commercially-published textbooks.

As for cons … it’s difficult to think of any. We don’t think that commercial textbook publishers do much editorial work to make their casebooks better. They are mostly marketing organizations … and, frankly, between us we know most of the people who teach copyright in the U.S. and many who teach it internationally, and we find it easy to reach them. For those reasons, a commercial publisher’s marketing capacity isn’t very useful to us, as it likely would not be to most legal academics.

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned and/or other suggestions for authors on how they can make their works available in the ways that they want?

JF & CS: One lesson is that it’s fun to write a textbook with a friend! We both enjoyed working on this together. Another lesson is that writing a textbook isn’t quite the slog that people may think it is. We spent a lot of time structuring the book and selecting and editing cases, and doing so gave us a nice opportunity to think anew about which cases – and which parts of cases – were most important and most helpful to students. And then we spent a good bit of time writing the parts of the book that frame the important questions in copyright law. There is a good deal of creativity involved in how you do this … you have to be clear, and thought-provoking, and engaging, and fair. At the end of this process, we’ve produced a casebook that we feel proud of.

AuAll: We are pleased to count both of you among the members of Authors Alliance. Could you say a few words about the value you find as a member?

JF & CS: We both appreciate the work of Authors Alliance, an organization that works on behalf of authors who write to be read. We are both very much in that camp: we’ve written our textbook because we value our role as teachers and scholars, and we want to lower the barriers to students who are interested in learning about copyright law. There are a lot of authors whose motivations are similar to ours, and Authors Alliance speaks for them.


Jeanne Fromer is Professor of Law at NYU, specializing in intellectual property including copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, and design protection laws. She is a faculty co-director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy.

Christopher Jon Sprigman is Professor of Law at NYU, where he teaches intellectual property law, antitrust law, torts, and comparative constitutional law. His research focuses on how legal rules affect innovation and the deployment of new technologies.

Accessibility Resource Roundup

Posted April 23, 2019
Colorful neon sign of a cowboy on a rearing horse
photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

April 23 is World Book and Copyright Day, an annual event organized by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing, and copyright around the world. In that spirit, we’ve compiled this list of resources on the topic of accessibility.

Earlier this month, the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) held its 38th Session in Geneva. (Although we didn’t attend this session, Authors Alliance has traveled to previous sessions of the SCCR to advocate for reasonable limitations and exceptions to copyright for educational and research purposes.)

One item under consideration at the most recent meeting was the Revised Scoping Study on Access to Copyright Protected Works by Persons with Disabilities. The report, prepared by Professors Caroline Ncube of the University of Cape Town and Blake Reid of the University of Colorado, was based on this 2017 WIPO fact-finding study. It defines various categories of disabilities in order to better identify which formats qualify as accessible for different types of users and analyzes the copyright laws of the 191 WIPO member states in the context of copyright exceptions for persons with disabilities.

In addition to co-authoring the WIPO/SCCR report, Professor Reid also has a new article on Internet Architecture and Disability (forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal). As the abstract states, “[t]he prevailing doctrinal approach to Internet accessibility seeks to treat websites as metaphorical ‘places’ subject to Title III of the ADA, which requires places of public accommodations to be accessible to people with disabilities. While this place-centric approach to Title III has succeeded to a significant degree in making websites accessible over the last two decades, large swaths of the Internet—more broadly construed to include Internet technologies beyond websites—remain inaccessible to millions of people with a variety of disabilities.”

Also available in pre-print format is the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Guide to Accessible Publishing (currently in draft for public pre-publication review). This major reference work is a newly updated and greatly expanded edition of the previous 2016 version and contains a comprehensive guide to creating accessible content, a glossary, and a series of “cheat sheets” that break down topics into user-friendly summaries. As the Introduction states, “Maybe someday we’ll be able to stop describing publications as ‘accessible,’ because it will be taken for granted. It’s hoped that this Guide helps us get there.”

Last but by no means least, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has released “Getting Started With the Marrakesh Treaty: A Guide for Librarians.” As we’ve written previously, the treaty creates a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled readers. It requires that contracting states enact copyright exceptions that allow books and other creative works to be made available in accessible formats, such as braille and audiobooks, and to allow for the import and export of such materials. Now that over 50 countries around the world (including the United States) have acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty, the IFLA guide—available in five languages—provides hands-on guidance on international copyright issues to libraries to facilitate availability of materials according to the requirements of the treaty.

For further reading on the topic of accessibility, see also our previous resource roundup, released in the fall of 2018 in connection with our report on Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age.

New Empirical Evidence on Digitization and the Demand for Physical Works

Posted March 19, 2019
Open books
photo by Congerdesign | Pixabay license

Authors Alliance members and allies know that we are champions of the opportunities presented by the digital age to generate new audiences and new sources of income for authors by helping connect books with readers. When we weighed in with an amicus brief in the Google Books case, we supported the position of authors who wanted their books to be discoverable through full-text searchable databases such as Google Book Search. We shared how Book Search helps readers to discover works, increasing the chance that books will find new audiences and markets as well as promoting the intellectual legacies of authors who wrote them.

New empirical research by Abhishek Nagaraj, Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley-Haas, and Imke Reimers, Assistant Professor of Economics at Northeastern, supports these arguments. Using data from Harvard libraries, the NPD (formerly Nielsen) BookScan database, and the Bowker BooksInPrint database, Nagaraj and Reimers investigated the effect of the Google Books project’s digitization of pre-1923 books from Harvard University’s libraries on demand for physical works. In Digitization and the Demand for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project, Nagaraj and Reimers present their findings, concluding:

Digitization hurt loans within Harvard but increased sales of physical editions by about 35%, especially for less popular works. Rather than cannibalizing demand, digitization might benefit copyright holders through increased discovery of less popular works.

Nagaraj and Reimers’ research contributes important empirical evidence to debates about the effect of digitization on the market for works. As the authors suggest, instead of serving as a market replacement, the availability of digitized copies may increase demand for print versions, especially for less popular and out-of-print works.

For more details about Nagaraj and Reimers’ data, methodology, and findings, click here to read the full article.

Authors Speak Out in Favor of Controlled Digital Lending

Posted February 4, 2019

In September 2018, Authors Alliance joined with other organizations including the Digital Public Library of America, Internet Archive, and UC Berkeley Library to sign on to a statement in support of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). CDL offers a good-faith interpretation of copyright law for libraries considering digitizing works in their collections and circulating the digitized title in place of a physical one. The statement is accompanied by an in-depth white paper by David Hansen and Kyle K. Courtney analyzing the legal arguments for CDL.

Under the CDL’s digitize-and-lend model, libraries make digital copies of scanned books from their collections available to patrons (the hard copy is not available for lending while the digital copy is checked out, and vice versa). A library can only circulate the same number of copies that it owned before digitization. Like physical books, the scanned copies are loaned to one person at a time and are subject to limited check-out periods.

System design choices and collection decisions, like selecting books that are orphaned (works for which the copyright owner cannot be identified or located), books that are out of print, or books that are non-fiction or primarily factual enhance the fair use arguments that underpin CDL. As Hansen and Courtney explain, CDL is “not meant to be a competitor to Overdrive, nor a replacement for licensing e-books of best-sellers or other currently licensable e-book content,” but CDL is particularly helpful to “address access to the large number of books published in the ’20th Century black hole’ that have little hope of otherwise bring made available to readers online.”

Libraries are now using CDL to lend books, so we asked our members to share their views on their books being made available through CDL. Here’s what they had to say:


CDL benefits authors, readers, and researchers

I was thrilled to see one of my books available through Controlled Digital Lending at the Internet Archive. It’s an older book that’s relatively hard to find, and I’m so pleased that people can get access to it today. CDL is an excellent way for authors like me to reach readers. But it’s also a way for authors to do research without having to visit remote archives or libraries. I’ve done a great deal of historical research on out-of-print books and periodicals through CDL programs, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

– Annalee Newitz
Author and Journalist



CDL helps to increase access to
out-of-print and otherwise unavailable works

Controlled Digital Lending provides authors with an opportunity to reach a broad public, especially if their books have gone out of print. It does not cut down on their royalties any more than sales to libraries do, and by making works widely available, it can give them new life. Several of my books are accessible through CDL, and I am delighted with the result.

– Robert Darnton
Professor of History and University Librarian Emeritus, Harvard University



CDL is a reasonable interpretation of fair use

CDL is beneficial for all authors whose readerships are not served by the narrow interpretation of the fair use doctrine that is the foundation of various objections to CDL. Library lending must move forward into the digital future, and part of that future is getting more authors’ works into the hands of more readers, which CDL helps to make possible. Only a few authors’ needs are served by restrictive models of access: most of us need all the help we can get connecting readers to our works! In addition, libraries are among the most important institutions in contemporary society, representing freedom of access to information. How many other ideals-driven public institutions are as alive as the library world? The CDL is an important 21st century expansion of that mandate. Let objecting authors remove their works, and let the rest of us share our books with the reading public through library systems.

– Megan Prelinger
Author
Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age (W.W. Norton, 2015)
Another Science Fiction Advertising the Space Race (Blast Books, 2010)



CDL can alleviate the gaps in availability
brought about by overly long copyright terms

In the treacherous, fearful underworld of Rights and Permissions I am often confused: I know that the Evil Mouse, manipulating the late Rep. Sonny Bono and others, extended copyright beyond reason. My feeling is that if my books bring royalty money to my children after I am gone, that is good. But as to my grandchildren—I love them beyond measure, but let them write their own books.

I don’t want to deprive any fellow-writers of income from their creations. Those property rights sometimes conflict with the author’s desire—strong in us poets—to be read. Those conflicting values: to be valued, and to be read—are part of what makes the terrain so scary.

May Controlled Digital Lending, as a protective guide there, be wisely Controlled.

– Robert Pinsky
former U.S. Poet Laureate



CDL helps authors reach audiences

I write so that people will read my books. That’s reason enough for me to support CDL.

– Paul Brest
Former Dean and Professor Emeritus (active) at Stanford Law School

Authorship & Accessibility Resource Roundup

Posted November 13, 2018

Photo of a maze and Authorship and Accessibility title on a green background

As a supplement to our recently released report on authorship and accessibility, we have compiled this list of resources that explain how authors can make their works more accessible in a variety of media formats. It is our hope that these resources will amplify the message of the report and encourage authors to make accessibility a part of their workflow when creating digital content.

 

Books

Dave Gunn, Accessible Books Consortium: Accessible eBook Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors

This explanation of how to create accessible e-books isn’t just for self-published authors; it is useful for anyone wishing to create a digital book with accessible features. These guidelines define key terms and explain how to make e-books accessible for a range of platforms, including Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press. A checklist at the end provides a handy summary of the material.

Apple: iBooks Authors: How to Make Your Books Accessible

This guidance describes how to include descriptions of images and objects in iBooks and provides other handy tips for creating accessible iBooks.

 

PDFs and Documents

Adobe: Create and Verify PDF Accessibility (Acrobat Pro)

Adobe’s detailed guide to PDF accessibility explains how to create accessible PDFs and check the accessibility of existing PDFs. Adobe guides you through setting a logical reading order, checking color contrast, tagging images, and everything in between.

National Center on Disability and Access to Education: Creating Accessible PDF Documents in Adobe Acrobat

This one-pager and accompanying video explain how to use Adobe’s accessibility wizard and address common issues.

Microsoft: Microsoft Accessibility Center

Microsoft has also created a suite of accessibility guides for their products, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, that explain common issues (such as handling images and links) and how to correct them.

National Center on Disability and Access to Education: Creating Accessible Microsoft Word Documents

This one-pager was last updated in 2018 and provides quick tips on using heading styles, alternative text, and other features in Microsoft Word to make documents more accessible.

 

Video

University of Washington: Creating Accessible Videos

This guidance provides an overview of video accessibility, including information about captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions. It also links to instructions on how to make accessible videos on a variety of platforms, including YouTube, Panopto, Canvas, and Facebook.

YouTube: Add Your Own Subtitles & Closed Captions and Use Automatic Captioning

YouTube’s tutorials explain how to create and upload closed captions to YouTube videos and how to review and make changes to YouTube’s machine-generated captions.

National Center on Disability and Access to Education: Captioning YouTube Videos

This one-pager and accompanying video were last updated in 2018 and explain how to add and edit captions on YouTube videos.

 

Images

Benetech: DIAGRAM Center Image Description

This guide from accessibility nonprofit Benetech explains how to correctly describe images to print-disabled users—very useful for providing helpful alt text and other descriptions that include necessary information while leaving out details that can confuse screen reading tools.

 

Mathematical Equations

DIAGRAM Center: Accessible Math

Another excellent resource from Benetech, this guide explains how to make printed mathematical equations and diagrams accessible to readers with limited or no vision.

 

Websites

W3C: Web Accessibility Tutorials

Last but not least, this collection of tutorials for website accessibility is presented by WC3, the international standards organization for the World Wide Web.

 

Authorship & Accessibility Guest Post: Blake Reid

Posted October 2, 2018

Photo of a maze and Authorship and Accessibility title on a green background

We would like to thank Blake Reid of the University of Colorado Law School for the following review of Reading Sounds: Closed-Captioned Media and Popular Culture by Sean Zdenek.

photo of Blake Reid standing next to a fenceI’m delighted to join my colleagues at Authors Alliance with this contribution to their ongoing series on Authorship and Accessibility, an outgrowth of a collaboration between Authors Alliance, Silicon Flatirons (where I’m a faculty director), and the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, which held a roundtable on the topic with technologists, authors, academics, lawyers, and disability advocates in Berkeley last year, summed up in this report co-authored by my students in the Colorado Law Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic.

By random chance, my first advocacy project as a lawyer was working for Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) and a coalition of deaf and hard of hearing consumer groups and accessibility researchers on closed captions for online video as a part of the Federal Communications Commission’s implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). Ever since, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of my life as a clinical fellow and law professor working on the law and policy side of the wonderful world of closed captioning.

Consumer groups and advocates have long been concerned about the quality of the captions that convey the aural components of video programming to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing with video programming. While inaccurate and incomplete captions are often the butt of jokes, they aren’t so funny for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on captions to understand the aural component of a video. For example, a single wrong letter on news captions might mean the difference between a story about a war in Iraq and a war in Iran.

That’s why consumer groups have fought hard for caption quality. Those efforts culminated in the FCC’s 2014 adoption of wide-ranging caption quality standards for television, which require captions to be accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed on the screen.

The FCC’s rules aim primarily at establishing a baseline of compliance to ensure that captions deliver a transcription of a program’s soundtracks that is as close to verbatim as possible given the unique attributes of sound and text. There are lots of good reasons that advocates have focused on verbatim captions over the years; in addition to incomplete and incorrect captions, there is a lengthy and complicated history of simplifying and censoring the content of captions, which most recently entered the public eye in the context of Netflix’s censorship of captions on the rebooted Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Verbatim is a principle that corresponds neatly to the goal of equal access: the captions should give viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing as near an equal experience in watching video programming as their hearing counterparts listening to the soundtrack.

However, advocates have also long urged their counterparts in the video industry to take captions seriously not just as a matter of accessibility, but as a matter of creativity. If filmmakers obsess over every aspect of a movie’s cinematography and sound design, why not the captions? In a production that spends millions of dollars to get all the details right, captions that are front and center for a film’s deaf and hard of hearing audience shouldn’t be an afterthought—they should be a core part of the creative process.

Sean Zdenek’s 2015 book Reading Sounds is one of the first efforts to rigorously explore the creative dimensions of captioning. Zdenek, a technical communication and rhetoric professor, endeavors to explore captioning as “a potent source of meaning in rhetorical analysis” and not simply a legal, technical, or transcription issue.

Zdenek’s exploration is an essential encyclopedia of scenarios, showing how captioning leaves creative choice, nuance, and subtlety to captioners and filmmakers. While captioning spoken dialogue seems on first blush to pose a relatively straightforward dialogue, Zdenek identifies nine (!) categories of non-speech information that are part of soundtracks, including:

  • Who is speaking;
  • In what language they are speaking;
  • How they are speaking, such as whispering or shouting;
  • Sound effects made by non-speakers;
  • Paralanguage—non-speech sounds made by speakers, such as grunts and laughs;
  • Music, including metadata about songs being played, lyrics, and descriptions of music; and
  • Medium of communications, such as voices being communicated over an on- or off-screen television or public address system.

Tricky scenarios abound. What if one speaker is aurally distinct from another, but his or her identity is unknown? (Imagine Darth Vader being identified as “Luke’s Father” in the early going of The Empire Strikes Back.) How should a captioner describe the unique buzzing sound made by Futurama’s Hypnotoad? How should the captioner describe an uncommon dialect that may not be familiar to a hearing viewer, or which may have been invented by the filmmaker? What are the lyrics to “Louie, Louie,” exactly?

Zdenek expands into a variety of other problematic scenarios such as undercaptioning (the omission of non-speech sounds), overcaptioning (making prominent the exact content of ancillary speech happening in the background that a hearing viewer may be unable to parse precisely), and transcending the context of a scene to convey information that the viewer shouldn’t know. Delayed captions are all too familiar to deaf and hard of hearing viewers, but Zdenek explores the subtle relationship between caption timing, punctuation, the spoilage of time-sensitive elements afforded by the ability to read ahead of the dialogue, such as reading the aural punchline to a visual setup, and the inadvertent creation of irony by captions that linger on the screen for too long. Zdenek even highlights the need to caption silence in dynamic contexts, such as a phone ceasing to ring or a person mouthing inaudible dialogue—scenarios that call to mind the controversial “silent” scene in The Last Jedi, which many hearing theater-goers were sure was a glitch but was an intentional choice by director Rian Johnson.

Zdenek also explores the role of captions in situating video in broader cultural contexts. For example, should a captioner identify a narrator who is a well-known actor with whom the audience will likely be familiar but who is uncredited in the film? How should music, such as the iconic NBC chimes, be described in text? And how can captioners be trained to capture cultural significance—especially if a captioner is a computer program converting text to speech automatically?

Zdenek does not offer complete solutions to all these questions and scenarios. But he extrapolates in unsparing detail (much of it presented in audiovisual context on the book’s companion website) how they arise and what considerations captioners and filmmakers might take into mind in thinking not just about how to comply with captioning law, but how to author captions.

In doing so, he has also created a compelling reference for lawmakers and policy advocates to develop a richer, more nuanced understanding of the role that captions can play in advancing the civil rights of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing to access video programming on equal terms. Zdenek is identifying dimensions of captioning that the next generation of video accessibility policy needs to consider and address.

Blake E. Reid studies, teaches, and practices in the intersection of law, policy, and technology. He is an Associate Clinical Professor at Colorado Law, where he serves as the Director of the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic (TLPC) and as the Faculty Director of the Tech Policy Initiative at the Silicon Flatirons Center.