Closed Captioning Craze!

I never really thought too much about how important closed captioning is until our most recent class. Closed captions are a text version of the spoken part of a TV show, movie, video, or computer presentation. It also provides a text version of whatever sounds are happening, such as music, audience laughter during a sitcom, or an explosion during an action movie.

Closed captioning is primarily for the benefit of people who are hearing-impaired. However, like many accessibility features, it can benefit those who are not disabled as well. For example, have you ever wanted to watch a video in a crowded place but you didn’t have your headphones? Have you ever wanted to watch Netflix but found that your computer’s speakers aren’t working? Or what about if you’re watching a video in a language that you know pretty well but could still use some help in understanding what everyone is saying? Closed captioning can come in handy in all of those situations!

Did you know that 20% of Americans have some kind of hearing loss? That’s a pretty sizeable part of our population. As a person who is one of the other 80%, it’s easy to take being able to hear videos for granted. The majority of TV channels and movies have options to turn on closed captioning, but that option isn’t always available for videos online, even with all of the strides we have made with web accessibility. That’s why websites such as Amara are so important. Amara is a way for anyone to caption and translate videos from the internet. One of our assignments for this week was to caption a short (one minute) video using Amara, and I actually had a lot more fun with it than I thought! It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it, and anyone can do it! All you need to do is:

1. Create an account (it’s free!)
2. Choose a video and upload it to Amara
3. Write out the transcript for the video
4. Sync the captions to the audio (this is the tricky part!)

Captioning a video definitely requires patience, but it’s very rewarding. Something that is relatively easy to us can mean so much to a person with a hearing impairment, and websites like Amara bring the internet one step closer to total accessibility- and the best part is that we get to help!

Here’s the video that I captioned (you’ll have to click the link because Amara doesn’t seem to want to let me embed the video!):

How I Met Your Mother- Desperation Day

If I have free time in the future, I’ll definitely consider captioning more videos!

Want to know more about hearing impairments? Check out these links:

Basic Facts About Hearing Loss

Types, Causes, and Treatments of Hearing Impairments

National Association of the Deaf

Creative Commons: Don’t Be a Jerk!

Do you ever have a moment where you sit back and realize: “wow, I was being a huge jerk and I didn’t even realize it”?

I had one of those moments when we learned about Creative Commons licensing in class.

Creative Commons, or CC for short, is a type of copyright that changes “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved”. If something is licensed under CC, the creator is giving you permission to use it, but under certain conditions.

All this time I had been grabbing pictures from Google Images and just sticking the url under them, because as long as I show where I got it from, I can use it, right?

No! Photo Credit: Abulic Monkey via Compfight cc

Everything licensed under Creative Commons can be used as long as proper credit is given, but not everything is licensed under CC, and just giving the url or even citing in MLA format doesn’t cut it. You have to check to see if the image is in fact licensed under CC, and you have to link to the exact license as well as the original creator and the website it is from.

There are several different licenses, each allowing you different kinds of freedoms in using the image (for example, whether or not you can adapt it or use it for commercial purposes). Check out this helpful infographic that outlines all of the different kinds of licenses, from least to most restrictive.

I know now that I can’t just use any image I find without permission, even if I cite my source. This is especially important in my discipline because as an English teacher, I’ll be using various graphics when making my own educational materials, and my students will be using graphics for assignments as well. I have a strict policy against plagiarism and theft, and I want to hold myself to these same standards.

Basically, it all comes down to getting permission before using an image, video, or other graphic on the web, and respecting the creator’s wishes as outlined in the license.

Otherwise, you are stealing.

Even if it’s not intentional, you can still get in trouble, and even if you don’t get caught, you’re still being a jerk.

Don’t be a jerk!

Still confused? Need help finding Creative Commons images? Check out this handy guide. It has details about the different licenses and lists places where you can find Creative Commons images, videos, and even audio!

Web Accessibility: Empowerment, Not Exclusion

Our topic for this week is web accessibility, which essentially means that people with disabilities can use the web. This includes people with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities- any disability that effects web access. Web accessibility is important because…

  • The web is becoming increasingly important in many aspects of our lives.
  • All people need equal access and equal opportunity, and an accessible web can help people with disabilities to actively participate in society.
  • Now that the internet is such a large part of our lives, it needs to be held to the same standards as the offline world when it comes to accessibility.
  • Rather than forcing people with disabilities to fix themselves and adapt, accessibility fixes the world and makes it more inclusive.

Reading the various articles in this week’s module taught me a lot about web accessibility and how various disabilities affect how people use the web. I was surprised at how many disabilities affect web usage; for example, I had no idea that anxiety and depression could cause a web user to be distracted easily while browsing a site.

It was also interesting to learn how web accessibility benefits everyone, including people without disabilities. Older people, people with health conditions, people with temporary disabilities (such as a broken arm), people with low literacy or who do not know a language well, and people with a slow internet connection can all benefit from accommodations on the web. Even people experiencing situational limitations, such as being in a loud environment or in bright sunlight, benefit from web accessibility.

When I read How to Make Your Blog Accessible to Blind Readers, it really made me think about whether or not my blog was accessible to people how have disabilities. I realized that when I first started making this blog, I wasn’t really thinking about accessibility. Because I don’t have any disabilities that prevent me from using the web, it’s easy for me to take things like this for granted. I consulted WordPress’s Accessibility Support Page as well, and I realized that my blog did in fact have accessibility issues for people with visual impairments. I made the following changes:

  1. I put alt text on all of my images so that people using screen readers or who cannot see the images for any other reason (such as a slow internet connection) can get a description of each image.
  2. I changed my links so that they do not open in a separate tab. I had thought that opening a new tab would be more convenient, but I learned that this can be disorienting for visually impaired people.
  3. I switched my theme. After consulting WordPress’s list of Accessibility-Ready Themes and seeing that my theme wasn’t on there, I switched to Twenty Fourteen because it was specifically listed as fully accessible- and it’s a beautiful theme, too! This meant that I had to resize and tweak my banner as well.

So many aspects of web accessibility seem like common sense, but it can be easy to forget to include them, especially if you’re lucky enough to not have any disabilities that affect your usage of the web. This is why it’s so important to include and plan for accessibility from the very beginning, not as an afterthought or separate entity.

Web accessibility empowers people with disabilities rather than excluding them, and that is why it is so important.

Want to learn more? This video by David Berman discusses why web accessibility is important and how we all have a social responsibility to make the web more accessible:

Featured Photo Credit: Giant Ginkgo via Compfight cc 

Look at My Cool Banner!

If you’ve visited my blog before last Tuesday, then you probably noticed that my blog looks a little different; namely, there’s a cool banner up top that I made myself. Our latest assignment was to make our own banners for our blogs using Pixlr, a photo editing website that’s like a scaled down (and FREE!) version of Photoshop. I had a lot of fun using the site, and once I got the hang of what the different features were and how to apply them, I found it very easy to make my banner.

Since we had to resize our pictures in order for them to fit as a banner, our professor recommended that we use a landscape so that it won’t look too squished or deformed. I knew right away that I wanted a beach sunset, and with the magic of Flickr and Creative Commons, found this lovely photo:

Unedited Photo: Seal Beach SunsetPhoto Credit: jonashaffer via Compfight cc

The assignment required us to alter our chosen pictures using at least one tool from each category in Pixlr. Here’s what I used for my banner:

  1. For Overlay, I used “Loove” found under “Bokeh”, which added some cute hearts on top of the photo. I only used about half for the amount because it was subtle and went well with the photo, and enhanced it without being overbearing.
  2. For Effect, I used “Earl” under “Vintage” because I thought the filter looked cool. I used a little over half for the amount in order to get the vintage effect without taking too much of the vibrant color away.
  3. For Border, I used “Drip” under “Grunge” because I liked the juxtaposition of the more grungy border with the photo’s bright colors and the overlay’s hearts. It all works together well and doesn’t clash, at least in my opinion! As a bonus, it also goes great with my blog’s theme!
  4. For Adjustments, all I did was reduce the contrast to -7 and increase the brightness to 2. This was very subtle, but it toned down the photo’s bright colors without losing its vibrance.
  5. For Type, I used the “Tiza” font under “Grunge” because it went well with the border and the photo in general, as well as my blog’s theme.

Here’s what the photo looked like with all of these effects:

Photo with effects but before resizing

After that, I just had to turn it into a banner. I resized it to 1260×240 pixels to fit my theme, and I redid the text so that it didn’t appear squished. The final product is right at the top of my page.

And there you have it! I’m very proud of the way my banner came out. Since there were a lot of elements that I needed to include, I tried to make most of them subtle so that the final product didn’t look overburdened and so that the original photo didn’t get lost in the chaos. I really enjoyed the creative process, but I do have a couple of complaints. First of all, it was hard to go back and fix something, since you have to get rid of all the layers of effects, fix what you need to fix, and then put everything back. Second, I didn’t like that you can’t save your work without downloading it, so I ended up saving a ton of different versions as I went along, just to be safe.

I think my banner gives a pretty good idea of who I am and what I like. I love the beach, sunsets, and water, and the contrast between the hearts/bright colors, the vintage filter, and the more “grungy” border and font could represent the different sides of my personality, if you want to get really deep about it.

So what do you think about my banner? Love it? Hate it? Have any suggestions? Tell me in the comments!

Self Reflection

From an early age, I’ve always loved to write.

I kept diaries from kindergarten all through high school, chronicling the many ups and downs of my life. In high school, I took as many English electives as I could, and I wrote for the school paper and literary magazine. Creative writing has always been a passion of mine as well; I write fiction, poetry, and even songs, although I consider myself as primarily a fiction writer.

As an English major, writing is a bigger part of my life than ever. Whether it’s completing a short analysis of a text for homework, banging out a research paper, or creating a short story for a creative writing elective, odds are I’m usually writing something.

When I tell people I’m an English major, I usually get “Oh, so you must like writing papers.”

Actually, no. I HATE writing papers.

I hate the blank Word doc glaring at me, reminding me how much work I have to do and how little brain power I actually have to do it. I hate the tedium of finding quotes and sources and doing citations. Most of all, I hate having such a great idea in my head but struggling to put it coherently on paper (I have this problem with fiction writing too). Or worse: thinking my idea is great but realizing halfway through the paper, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, that it isn’t really going anywhere.

See, once I think of that truly great idea and really get rolling (usually with the help of lots of coffee), I can write a pretty darn good paper. But it’s the process of setting it up that kills me. My brain decides to shut off when I need it most, then I end up procrastinating and hating myself for it later. That Spongebob episode where he needs to write an essay for boating school has become the story of my life.

I’d say that the weaknesses in my writing are my organization and details. I sometimes find myself going on a tangent, or glossing over something that should be explained better, or just saying the same thing in different ways. The thing is, this is 100% preventable, and the best way for me to do it is PLANNING. If I want to write a successful paper, I need to follow a specific process:

  1. Write all my thoughts out, look over my notes, and put together a thesis from this imaginary pile of ideas that I dumped out of my brain.
  2. Make as detailed an outline as possible, including supporting points, quotes, and sources.
  3. Write the paper using this outline.
  4. Proofread and edit.
  5. Turn in the final draft and CELEBRATE! Another paper down.

If I follow this process, writing the paper seems like much less of a monumental task. And if I don’t? To put it bluntly, usually the paper ends up sucking. The aforementioned writing flaws come out in full force.

The hardest part of this process is finding the motivation to actually DO IT. Sometimes, my brain just doesn’t want to work, and writing is like pulling teeth. I’ve learned that it’s impossible to be productive in my room (the library is a must) and I can’t concentrate unless there’s a decent amount of caffeine running though my veins. It might take me a while to get going, but once I do, I can’t be stopped. I’ve worked all though the night on a paper just because I knew that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to start again.

My brain may be a fickle jerk, but when it actually is working, I can create something great. And there’s nothing like the feeling of finishing a paper that you worked hard on and that you know is awesome. I still hate writing papers and would much rather be writing fiction, but an English major’s work is never done! At least someday I’ll be grading papers instead of writing them.

What’s your writing process like? Do you struggle with the demon of procrastination too? How do you stay motivated when writing? Feel free to share in the comments!

Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc