Designing an accessible podcast experience with Google Podcasts


Introduction

Podcasts are a great way to learn new enriching information, listen to interviews, and get deep insights into various topics - but for the normally abled only. Podcasts are not always inclusive, often leaving the hearing impaired out of the loop. This project is my take on making podcasts an inclusive resource for everyone via Google Podcasts.

PS. this is just a personal project.


Problems & Pain points

I tried to find people that were specially abled and consumed podcasts, but couldn't find any. Hence, I had to resort to the internet with online forums and reviews to figure out what issues currently prevail in the whole experience.

Learnings

In Google podcasts,


Research

I went online to get more context on podcasts and how accessibility is achieved in media streaming. I also tested out the interfaces for learning for how they implemented accessibility and what they could improve. Here are a few things I discovered:

W3 accessibility standards for podcasts

Audio-only (e.g., podcast):

Source

Types of podcasts

Based on content, there are two types of podcasts:

  1. Narrative: Podcasts that are spoken in a narrative style, where the narrator gets in-depth and provides insightful information on their subjects.
  1. Conversational: Podcasts that have more than one person speaking, often involving 1:1 interviews and group discussions.

Transcripts are usually in different formats according to the type of podcast.

Competitor Analysis

Researching through the platforms where people consume podcasts, I came across various implementations to improve the podcast experience. I'll cover them via the specific features they provide.

Transcripts

Many of the self-hosted podcasts provide a transcript of their episodes along with their episode release.

Transcript from This American Life podcast

Benefits

Closed captions - Youtube

Platforms like Youtube provide closed captions (sometimes auto-generated) for their content that provides the live text for what the host is saying.

Closed captions on MKBHD's Youtube video.

Benefits

Chapters - Youtube

Youtube provides an option for creators to add chapters defining the notable sections in their videos.

Chapters on MKBHD's Youtube video.

Benefits

Transcripts with time-stamps

TED is a platform that provides transcripts with time-stamps. Since the content on TED talks is usually narrative, this proves to be a good implementation of transcripts.

Transcripts on TED.com

Benefits


Ideation

I went ahead with using Transcripts because they proved to be better for scanning content and are more reliable than auto-generated text. The technology for captioning could be used to pre-generate transcripts for podcasts.

How do podcasts affect transcripts?

Since podcasts have different formats, having a single transcript format doesn't allow for effective consumption. For conversational podcasts, the emphasis should be on "who" is speaking. And for narrative podcasts, the emphasis should be on "what" is being spoken.

How to make transcripts scannable?

The most common form of facilitating scanning in a large area is providing a table of contents, eg. books. The table of contents lists out the important topics the book will cover and shows the page from where each specific topic starts. This helps in jumping to the specific topic you want to access.

Currently, podcasts are a single stream of audio, more often than not, providing no means to skip to sections of relevant content or scan through what the podcast covers.


Transcripts for Google podcasts

Discovery

To facilitate the discovery of a new option, Transcripts were kept beside the most-used Play button. This keeps the Transcripts format on the same level as the Audio format.

Time-stamps

Similar to the podcast media player, Transcripts open up in a bottom-sheet that can be scrolled. To enable easy jumping through the podcast contents by screen-readers, time-stamps are included before each sensible section.

Sections

Sections make the contents of the podcast more scannable for screen readers. Each section consists of a sensible chunk of information along with a time-stamp to allow screen readers to quickly jump to that specific section instead of scouring through the whole transcript for relevant information.

Transcripts for Conversational podcasts

Conversational podcasts focus on who is speaking, occasionally dividing the whole narration into acts or chapters that loosely change the scene or environment. Transcripts for conversational podcasts use sections for defining chapters (or acts) and the rest of the transcript follows according to who is speaking when.

Live text highlighting

The advent of transcripts allow the abled as well as the hard of hearing to follow the contents of the podcast along with listening to it. This helps them keep track where they are at that time and what section they are present in.


Closing thoughts

I feel like accessibility is considered to be a nice-to-have feature but instead it should be engrained in the concept of design itself. I do agree that new features that make the product accessible may often get less priority due to business needs but the narrative changes when they realise how much of the customer base need those features to use the product.

This was an insightful project and it led me to deep dive into the technologies used by the specially-abled folks to understand their patterns better. I hope I'll be able to make better solutions next time from the learnings I had from this project.

Thanks for reading ✌️