Universal Subtitles: Crowdsourcing Subtitles For Videos

Below you’ll see one of our videos from the BrailleSC project. This particular video features a teacher working with a young student who is visually impaired. The video, like all of our videos, needs subtitles. If BrailleSC is to fulfill its goal of creating fully accessible content, then we need to make sure that people with hearing impairments will be able to benefit from our videos. After experimenting with a paid service for transcribing our videos, I began to think about what it would take to create a tool that would allow people to volunteer their transcription efforts. Such a tool would benefit not only BrailleSC, but also other projects that also feature video or audio.

One tool whose development I’ve been very interested in is Scripto, “a light-weight, open source, tool that will allow users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects.” Scripto, being developed by the Center for History and New Media, is designed for projects where images of written or printed documents need to be transcribed. The potential exists, I believe, for adapting a tool like this for projects involving video or audio rather than the written word.

Until that potential is realized, however, there are some other options available. I recently learned about a great project called Universal Subtitles, an open-source tool that brings together volunteers who want to subtitle videos and videos that need subtitles. The idea is pretty simple; I’ll just quote from their site:

You add our widget to your videos. Then you and your viewers can add subtitles, which anyone can watch. We save the subtitles on our site (but you can download them). And each video has its own collaboration space on our site (like a wikipedia article) where people can make improvements, track changes, and give feedback.

The project is being undertaken by the Participatory Culture Foundation, “a non-profit organization building free and open tools for more a democratic and decentralized media. Universal Subtitles is a featured Mozilla Drumbeat project, and they’re currently raising money to get the tool out of beta. Note: From now until January 1 Mozilla will match your donation to the project.

Universal Subtitles is composed of three main parts:

  • The subtitling widget currently exists as a browser-based javascript tool that features an user friendly interface for adding subtitles to almost any video on the web (without the hassle of re-transcoding or re-uploading). We’re inviting people to check it out and we’re curious to know what you think.
  • The collaborative website will develop as a space for collaborative subtitling and translating videos. The site will encourage dynamics like: formation of teams for subtitling a program, or a topic; tracking which subtitling or translation tasks are the most requested, and mobilizing volunteers; volunteers recruiting their friends for help transcribing or translating a video.
  • The protocol/open spec (still in the early stages) will allow clients such as Firefox extensions, desktop video players, websites, or browsers to look up and download matching subtitles from subtitle database(s).

Everything … will be available under the open source AGPL license.

It’s easy to get involved with Universal Subtitles:

For more information

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How do I create a custom page in Omeka?

I have a fairly simple question about Omeka, and I hope there’s a fairly simple answer (or that someone can point me to the right place in the documentation or discussion forum.) If an item has a few media files associated with it, how would I go about creating a template for a dynamically-generated page that would display one of those media files and not all of them at once? Here’s the context for the question: with BrailleSC, we’re creating an Omeka archive of oral histories. Each oral history item will be presented as a transcription (in HTML), a video file (MP4), and an audio file (MP3). As I understand it, the default page for an Omeka item automatically displays all of the files associated with that particular item, and in the case of a 30-minute video what that means is the user must wait for a pretty large video file to load, even if all they’re interested in is the transcription or the mp3.

Now, we could use some kind of Flash-based player that wouldn’t load the video on the page but would stream it when the user specifically triggers the video; unfortunately, however, Flash is not compatible with the screen reader shoftware used by many of our intended audience.

What’d we like to have is a page that automatically displays the transcription (and maybe a screenshot from the video) but just provides links to the pages that contain the video and the audio. If I understand the backend correctly, such pages would need to be passed the “id” of the Omeka item so that they could then grab the appropriate video or audio file and embed it on the page. Is that correct? Could anyone give me a nudge in the right direction so that I could hack something together?

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!

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Revised Questions: Oral Histories Regarding Braille

I am sincerely grateful for all of the feedback I received (in various channels) about my last post. Below I list the questions I ended up asking during the first three interviews I conducted. Keep in mind that the interviews were much more like conversations than this somewhat sterile list of questions might imply.

A hand reading braille.

  1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
  2. What is your experience today with using braille in everyday life?
  3. What do you remember about when you first started learning braille?
  4. What was the hardest thing about learning braille?
  5. Looking back now, what’s your opinion of the way you were taught braille?
  6. Today, when you read for pleasure, what kind of material do you read and how do you read it? (audio? braille?)
  7. Some say that listening to a book is not an example of literacy and that only by reading through braille is a person literate. What’s your opinion?
  8. With new technologies making it so easy to listen to books and other kinds of writing, is there a good reason to preserve braille and keep teaching people how to use it?
  9. Do braille readers have any advantages over sighted readers?
  10. Let’s turn now from reading to writing. How do you compose your writing? What tools do you use? How do you edit? Do you use a brailler?
  11. When you were a child, did you have any adult role models who were visually impaired or blind?
  12. Do you think it’s important for young people who are visually impaired or blind to have adult role models who are, too?
  13. As far as you know, are you a role model to any young people?

[Photo by Flickr user antonioxalonso. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Collecting Oral Histories Regarding Braille

As part of a project involving USC Upstate’s Special Education – Visual Impairment program and the University of South Carolina Center for Digital Humanities, I’ll be helping to gather oral histories from individuals all over the state covering their experiences with braille: teachers, students, adults, children, parents, friends…

One of the undergraduate student assistants on the project, Rashad Morgan, generated the following questions, which I think are good ones. However, we’d appreciate feedback from anyone who has some experience with oral histories. For one thing, I suspect that we currently have too many questions.

Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Ice Breakers

  1. In one minute or less, tell me about you?
  2. What are some of your hobbies or things you enjoy doing?
  3. Who is your favorite person in the world to be with?
  4. How long have you known them?
  5. Are you nervous or worried about being interviewed? (If they are, then try to comfort them.)

Questions for Older Individuals

  1. What are your feelings about braille and how do you use braille in your daily life?
  2. What is one of your favorite memories about learning braille?
  3. How long did it take for you to learn to read braille?
  4. What advice would you give to other people who are learning braille?
  5. What was the most difficult thing about learning braille and why?
  6. Looking back, what, if anything, could have been done to make your experience learning braille easier or go more smoothly?
  7. How do you feel about reading braille either in conjunction or instead of print?
  8. Does it ever make you feel awkward or different from everybody else?
  9. Does reading and writing in braille make life more challenging? If so, what are some of the challenges?

Questions for Younger Individuals

  1. What are your feelings about braille and how do you use braille in your daily life?
  2. What are some of the fun things about learning and using braille?
  3. Do you have braille books that you enjoy reading?
  4. If so, what are your favorites?
  5. What is one of your favorite memories about learning braille?
  6. What was the most difficult thing about learning braille and why?
  7. What advice would you give to other people who are learning braille?
  8. How do you feel in the classroom when you read braille and others use print?
  9. Do other students and/or others treat you differently because you are different from them or because you read braille?
  10. Do you have friends that read braille too?
  11. What are your favorite things to do together?
  12. Do you have older friends or family members who read braille?
  13. Do you feel comfortable asking them for help? Why or why not?
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