Podcast enjoyment for the hearing impaired

A pair of headphones

Podcast enjoyment for the hearing impaired

For much of this century so far - but especially through the 2010s - podcasts have emerged as one of the most popular mediums of cultural discourse. That might sound like something of a roundabout way to refer to them, but it's true: After all, they cover such a massively diverse range of subjects, including the back stories behind the making of strange and forgotten movies, opinions on every sport under the sun, gardening tips, in-depth social and political discussions and everything in between. So referring to podcasts as "pre-recorded radio" seems reductive, even though that's technically what they are.

With all of that being said, those who are hearing impaired might think that this medium of entertainment (and infotainment) is something that they have to settle for missing. But that couldn't be further from the truth. There are several ways in which individuals who happen to be hard of hearing can enliven and enlighten themselves through podcasts. Let's take a look at some of these assistive methods, and also run down some of the best podcasts for which such resources are offered to their listeners.

Video editions with closed captions 
It's quite obviously true that podcasts are primarily known as an audio format, but a considerable number of them are available in video format - usually as excerpts, or in truncated form. As such, they will usually have closed captioning available on whatever player is used for them. In fact, some podcasts have even been turned into television shows, like "This American Life" (more on that show later), and those videos almost certainly have subtitles available. So make sure searching for video backup is your first step when looking for podcast enjoyment assistance: It's not guaranteed, but it's also far from impossible to find.

Value of podcasts with written transcripts 
Now, you might think that the idea of written records of podcasts might, in and of itself, sort of defeat the purpose of the medium. But bear with us here: Text transcripts of podcasts provide all listeners - hearing impaired or otherwise - an easy way to follow along with the ebb and flow of conversation that makes up these shows. Also, you have the opportunity to check up on a sentence you misheard or a fact you want to make sure you get right when you bring it up in conversation with friends and family!

Kinsey Wilson, senior VP of National Public Radio's Digital Media department, explained the importance written transcripts would have to an audience in a 2009 statement, back when NPR first announced this decision.

"As web content becomes easier to share and distribute, and search and social media have become important drivers of audience engagement, archival content - whether in the form of stories or transcripts - has an entirely different value than it did in the past," Wilson said.

NPR senior librarian Laura Soto-Barra made an even better case for the value of such transcripts based on reasons of simple fairness, by saying, "We have offered free audio for a long time and we felt that free transcripts were long overdue."

Getting ahold of podcast transcripts 
There are a few ways by which podcast fans who are hard of hearing can obtain transcripts of their favorite shows, including the following:

  • Directly from the website: Some podcast providers and networks will directly offer transcripts for various episodes of every show on their websites. NPR, as previously mentioned, is a major example of this, and most of its affiliate stations throughout the country offer the same resource. When transcripts are offered, they will usually be made available within 24 hours of the podcast episode going live.
  • Fan-created transcripts: These will not necessarily be as reliable reproductions of a podcast's content as that which the original podcast network might provide, given that the networks will hire transcription or stenography professionals to create the textual facsimiles. But they also may offer a greater indication of the podcast's actual feeling, because they're made by dedicated enthusiasts of the program. The best places to look for transcripts of this kind include Reddit communities and websites created and maintained by the lovers of these shows.
  • Using transcription software: A quick web search for "podcasts with transcripts" or "podcast transcript generator" will yield a number of useful results. Transcription Star noted that some software programs that can convert audio files to text transcripts are available entirely for free or in free trial versions, so you can sample a couple of them and make a truly informed decision. The most advanced transcription tools, though, might be somewhat expensive, as the final price will likely depend on the run time of the audio being adapted and the complexity of the task (industry or science podcasts that use a lot of specific jargon, for example).
  • Transcribe via YouTube: This option will require a reasonable level of tech know-how. But if you can obtain an original audio file of the podcast and then upload it to YouTube as if it were a video, the Google-owned video sharing site will offer its own transcript of the upload (and, thus, the episode) within about a day or so. Be sure to exercise some caution if you go for this method, though, as certain copyright stipulations may apply and you don't want to get yourself in any trouble!

Great podcasts with available transcriptions
A person's tastes in podcasts - much like books, movies or music - can't be easily predicted, so we admit that there's no guarantee you'll love the shows we're about to list. Nevertheless, all of the following are considered among the best-known podcasts out there that happen to make transcripts available for some or all episodes:

  • This American Life: Arguably one of the most popular radio shows of all time, Ira Glass's program exploring slices of life from all over the American social, cultural and economic spectrum is always available in podcast form after it airs, and the podcast version features transcripts. (It also aired for a while as a documentary TV series on Showtime, with closed-captioned episodes, but ended.)
  • Freakonomics: Originally inspired by Paul Krugman's bestselling book, the "Freakonomics" podcast examines everything from various aspects of the global economy (as you likely guessed) to parenting, personal productivity, education, social issues and much more.
  • How Did This Get Made?: On the less serious end of the podcast spectrum, "How Did This Get Made?" focuses on the backstories behind the strangest, worst - and, as a result, some of the most interesting - movies you can imagine, ranging from big-budget failures to cult-favorite cheap horror flicks. Transcripts are available for some episodes, though not all of them.
  • Scriptnotes: Another film-centric podcast, "Scriptnotes" is hosted by John August and functions as a close analysis of the screenwriting craft, with all its difficulties. Transcripts are available for all episodes.
  • On Being: Winner of a Peabody award, this radio show and podcast covers a wide variety of complex subjects - science, spirituality, philosophy, politics, art and sociology - in an approachable manner, led by host Krista Tippett. Nearly all episodes have transcripts available.
  • The Night Vale Presents podcasts: Inspired in part by the strange fictions of the Night Vale Community Radio podcast, its successors continue the story in the style of old-fashioned radio plays. These have an extremely devoted fan community that creates unofficial but well-regarded transcripts of each episode.

Let’s take a look at some of these assistive methods, and also run down some of the best podcasts for which such resources are offered to their listeners.