We are used to seeing handicapped parking spots and curb cuts, but how many of us think about the accessibility of the Internet – specifically travel and tourism Web sites – to those with disabilities?

As I discussed in an earlier post (Can you see this? Let’s talk Web accessibility) I’ve become a convert to the importance of making the Web accessible to everyone, including those who cannot hear or see very well.

By the way, if you are young now but plan to live to old age, come to grips with the realization that you won’t be able to see or hear as well as you do now. Web accessibility matters to everyone, eventually.

The disabled travel, too, and there are millions of them.  Have you thought about whether your tourism-related Web site gives them the information they need to plan a trip?

I’m trying two different tools to make my own content more understandable and easier to use.

Perhaps you can find some useful ideas here for your own site….

1)  BuzzVoice.  Look at the right-hand sidebar on this blog; you’ll see a little phone-looking icon (we call it a widget) created by a company called BuzzVoice.

BuzzVoice Logo

It uses text-to-speech software to turn my written words into spoken English, so a visually-impaired or dyslexic person can still absorb my content.  Thanks to this post about BuzzVoice by Jason Falls, I’m helping out with the software’s beta-testing.  Your feedback is, of course, most welcome down in the comments for this post.

Is something like this only for the visually-impaired? Nope; another benefit is that people who have long commutes, road trips,  workouts or who simply love audio content can “listen” to my blog posts on iPhones, iPods/MP3 players & other mobile devices (and now on the new iPad.)

To share the Sheila’s Guide talking widget on Facebook, Twitter & other social sites, just click the “Grab This” button at the bottom of the widget (you can embed it like you do a YouTube video.)  You can subscribe to the vocals as an RSS feed or as an iTunes audio feed.

The software doesn’t “translate” perfectly, of course, and it’s an electronic voice rather than my own, but still, it’s a step ahead for allowing multiple ways for readers to enjoy the site.

2)  Video captions.  A service to help you with automated video captioning is now available for all YouTube users, so I’m trying it out on a few of my own videos.

I’ve been schooled by Web accessibility expert Glenda Watson Hyatt on the importance of video captioning for the hearing-impaired (here are some captioning tips on Glenda’s blog) but until this machine transcription service, it was “too hard” and “took too much time.”

YouTube Logo

To request a machine transcription (the software for it was created by a deaf Google engineer) go to the Edit function of your selected video and look for the tab labeled “Captions.” Click that, and ask for an (English only) machine transcription if it’s not already been done.

You’ll get an .sbv file to download and edit.  I recommend opening it in WordPad for better formatting. You’ll see the words lined up with the time that they were said in the video; you’ll also see that the speech-to-text technology is….er….not terribly accurate.

No matter:  at least you have a time-synched rough draft transcript to work with, right?

Rename the “captions.sbv” file something like “Smithville downtown video transcript.sbv” and go to work – edit the file to make the text match what is actually said in the video.

It is much easier to edit a video when the speaker is clear and speaks slowly; since I tend to speak quickly when I narrate my own videos, I am a pain to edit. 🙂

When the .sbv file is ready, upload it back on the same Edit page for the video, and it will automatically be entered into the video.  Watch the captioned video all the way through to make sure everything is correct.  If there is a problem, go back to editing, remove the old file and re-upload your corrected one (it will again be automatically added to your video.)

Here is one of our Tourism Currents videos with captioning: 60 Seconds on Blogger Outreach with Zoetica Media’s Kami Huyse.

Are there SEO (Search Engine Optimization) benefits to adding this caption text to your videos? My very preliminary research indicates that the jury is still out on SEO benefits of YouTube’s captions, but at least now you have a transcript that you might be able to add to the video description or place into your own blog post below the video’s embed box (and that text WILL be indexed by search engine bots.)

More importantly, actual humans appreciate captions. Here is a video from the California School for the Deaf High School (here’s a direct link to it on their YouTube channel) with students explaining why they’re so excited to have more captioned video content – I dare you to watch it and not realize the power of Web accessibility: