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Adventures in Accessibility

Learning together as we work towards more inclusive approaches

As we’re all acutely aware, the current global pandemic has required adaptation and resilience, both in the work we do and the day-to-day of how we do it. Switching to a completely remote working environment alone has had its challenges. But while the pandemic has upended the ways in which we work in many regards, it has also opened our eyes to ways to do better, to be more accessible, to extend our reach. It has offered the opportunity to reflect on how to increase the accessibility of our work, something to which OST continues to be strongly committed.

One way in which we are trying to tackle this is through building on our existing practices and offering additional ways of engaging in information sharing and discussion through webinars. For example, as we prepared for an upcoming webinar on the California halibut stock assessment peer review, we attempted to augment how we used Zoom functionality to include closed captioning, with the goal of also posting the resulting transcript following the webinar. This would allow those who couldn’t make it to still access the information, as well as increasing accessibility for those whom video or audio may not work. But even something seemingly simple can play out in unexpected ways.

I installed the necessary components, figured out the work-arounds for barriers I encountered, and went through all the testing to make sure it was working properly on multiple platforms. (Side note: Zoom, can we get closed captioning available when joined from a browser? Am I missing something?!)

Going into the webinar, I felt confident we had addressed the closed captioning challenge in Zoom, excited to have found what I thought was a good solution. Based on the setup, I could not see the closed captioning on my screen during the webinar, so it wasn’t until I read through the transcript later that I realized just how unhelpful it might have been to read live.

There was no punctuation. No sentence capitalization (except for the random capitalized words in the middle of sentences). And while I didn’t expect the software to transcribe each word perfectly, the ratio of correct to incorrect word recognition was, well, not ideal. OST doesn’t usually self-identify as having “Bean scientist expertise”. And what are “recreational fleas”?

I chuckled to myself and shared some of my favorite mis-quotes with the team, several of us with tears streaming down our faces as we read about the “potentially bike hatched beefy’s”. And maybe it was just our collective mood late on a Friday, or the general exhaustion of a global pandemic, an intense election week, and many other anxieties day-in and day-out, but it seemed we needed the humorous release we found in those nonsensical phrases.

Clearly, we still have work to do to find the best approach to providing a closed caption option on our webinars, and maybe you know of one you can share with us! But this was also a reminder to find the levity in the frustrating missteps and lean into the growing pains. We will continue down the path of making our work more accessible, one “chicken duck this review process” at a time.

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