Podcasts have emerged as the next big entertainment medium, with people tuning in to hear stories on everything from true crime to sports commentary.
But the deaf and hard of hearing community experiences podcasts very differently. Although podcasts have accessibility features like transcripts and spoken word captions, a lot of nuances — like tone and pace — can get lost in translation.
Vox Media’s creative studio, Vox Creative, and telco brand Straight Talk Wireless decided to fill that gap with a new podcast, “More Than This.”
The six-episode series tells stories of people who made unconventional decisions during pivotal points in their lives. “More Than This” was designed to attract potential Straight Talk Wireless customers who may feel limited by certain things in life — like paying for their cell phone bill because they’re committed to a contract.
Danielle Prescod, founder of consulting agency 2 Black Girls, hosts the podcast, which features guests including Carla La’Vette, a thrifter making vintage clothing accessible, and Aileen Luib, an influencer living a celebrity lifestyle on a budget. Straight Talk was connected to these guests through Epic Digital, Vox Media’s team of story hunters.
“We found people who stared down the question, ‘What if?’ and decided to find out for themselves,” Martha Daniel, branded audio producer at Vox Media, told Campaign US. “Straight Talk customers are people who don't want to be tied down. They want to have flexibility in their lives. They want the freedom to live life on their own terms and conditions. And so, when they came to us, the challenge was to create a show that first and foremost sounds like Straight Talk.”
Vox and Straight Talk were inspired to make their podcast accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing communities after meeting with Mandy Harvey, a deaf musician featured on the podcast.
Harvey explained that she felt that podcasts were a “heartbreaking medium” for her to participate in. The conversation helped Daniel realise that plain text transcripts don’t reflect the spirit of podcasts well enough for the deaf community.
“We wanted to create a product that honored the universe that we were so painstakingly creating in sound, and translate it for a non-listening audience,” said Daniel.
Vox Creative tapped JamiLee Hoglind, a digital creator and member of the deaf community, as a consultant on the project and worked with a team of engineers, graphic designers and user experience designers to translate sound into visuals.
The episodes include an immersive transcript that translates emotions, pacing and atmosphere into visuals. The transcript bolds and underlines certain words and staggers dialogue to visually interpret the tone of an audio-only conversation. The background also changes colors and includes images based on the tone of the speaker’s voice.
“We hope this lights a fire in the industry to rethink accessibility from a podcast perspective, take our idea and make it better,” said Daniel. “If we see more accessible podcasts that come from a true place of creativity and entertainment, and not a ‘box checked' approach, we'll have been successful at what we set out to do."