Staging an (Accessible) Online Reading: A Step-By-Step Guide
May 22, 2017 § 16 Comments
By Sonya Huber
The typical literary reading presents an obstacle course for many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. From finding transportation and parking to staying up late to navigating stairs and chairs, every decision involves stress and difficulty. My recent essay collection, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays From a Nervous System, deals with the twists and turns of living with chronic pain, and I knew that I needed to find ways to connect with people with chronic pain. I was surprised to find that an online reading was easy and fun, and I believe this is something other authors can easily do to extend their own audiences and make literary readings more accessible.
My first foray into online readings was through a Facebook Live Event. I hadn’t seen this done before so I kind of winged it, and in the end I think it turned out very well. I know that I will hardly ever in my life have 345 people watching me read at a bookstore, so even though I couldn’t see their faces, I could see little hearts and thumbs-up icons floating past the screen along with comments as I read. And within a few days after the reading, the video had been viewed over 1,200 times—a number that warms any creative writer’s heart. I believe that jumping into online “broadcast” can help to get ourselves out there and share our work with wider audiences, so here’s how I did it:
- Choose your platform. My options were Facebook or YouTube, and I chose Facebook because I have more contact with friends and followers there, but I think there are arguments for both platforms. The one argument against Instagram as a live video service is that it does not support captioning.
- I picked a day and time to host the “live” event and made a Facebook event for the reading. Since the reading was going to be on my personal page, I put a link to my personal page on the event itself along with information about what I would be reading from. I chose an afternoon time on a weekend because some groups of people with disabilities and chronic illness have their best energy before evening, so late events are usually not ideal.
- I worried that no one would come and that I was going to pioneer a new kind of bad idea on live video. I was grouchy with anticipatory embarrassment.
- I investigated how to caption a video and whether I could download this video. I learned that it seems complicated at first but then, once you become comfortable, it’s very possible and even easy. Captioning is important to allow access to people who want to engage with the reading but who are d/Deaf. Captioned video often comes with a separate text file called a SubRip or “srt” file, and I briefly dove into learning about that but then I learned that for basic applications like this, it’s not necessary to understand.
- I ran a test “live video” reading that was about half a minute on my Facebook profile so I could play around with the file (first learning that I couldn’t go live because of some browser preference, so that was good to know). After fixing my browser, I recorded a bit of me talking live by pressing the “Go Live” button. I learned that by clicking on the video itself so that it was the only thing on my screen, and then clicking the three dots in the upper right of the video, I could download the file as an mp4. Great! I also learned through extensive Googling that Facebook offers a new valuable service in which videos published to a Page (not a personal profile) would have an option to use automatic voice-recognition captioning. Yay! I have an author page, so I figured I’d upload the file and use the captioning in the Page itself to caption the video.
- I uploaded my “test” file (about 30 seconds of me talking) to my page. After I hit “Publish,” and the thing was uploaded and processed, I had the option to go back and “edit” the post. When I hit “edit,” there was a “captions” option that included a button to “Generate.” (I paused for a bit of joy because I was so excited.) I hit the button, and YES! Captions! I scrolled through and edited the captions where Facebook interpreted by nasal speech to nonsense, which was super-easy.
- The day of my reading, I was JUST AS NERVOUS as an in-person reading. That was interesting. Doing this also fulfilled a childhood fantasy of being a news anchor. I think many people might not have been nervous doing this as I was, but I am old-school enough that Skype and FaceTime both make me want to throw up for some reason (like… you can’t actually make eye contact with people.) Nevertheless this didn’t feel as weird as those platforms, and I happily couldn’t see anyone’s face beside my own. I read, and people watched, and then they typed questions in the comment field that I could answer. I answered some of them, and I sort of rushed those because I was self-conscious, but overall I think the whole thing went well, and I said, “I love you” a lot. The best part was feeling really immediately connected to a lot of friends. It was intense!
- I said goodbye and did a celebratory adrenaline lap around the house and ate some chocolate.
- Later after I’d calmed down, I downloaded the file and tried to upload it into my page to work on the captions. THERE WERE NO CAPTIONS, or rather, no option to generate them. This was super-annoying. After some more Googling, I learned that Facebook will only do captions (I think for longer files) for pages that are “verified.” I went on a tangent trying to prove that I am a real “business” and uploaded some tax forms and in general got frustrated. This part still hasn’t resolved yet, and I ended up getting rejected. I think you need an official listed phone number connected to your business, so universities would probably fit that bill. Anyway, whatever, Mark Zuckerberg.
- Then I turned to YouTube. It’s very worthwhile to set up your own YouTube account so you can upload content. YouTube saved the day. I uploaded the mp4 file to YouTube, and then I panicked because someone online had said that captioning was available, but once again it was not there.
- I paused for despair, but it turns out that this pause was functional. While I was despairing, YouTube was processing my file. The option for YouTube to generate captions doesn’t show up immediately, especially with a longer file. I went back to YouTube and after Googling some how-to’s, I figured out how to see the captions: go into the “Video Manager,” then edit the file, then click on the last option at the top menu bar, “Subtitles/CC.” The captions show up. If you click on “English (Automatic)” that is the rough version of your captions, and then you have to re-save your corrected version. Google a how-to if you’re nervous about this.
- I scrolled through the captions, correcting and punctuating. It was really easy. Then I published!
- I am inordinately proud of the captions that showed up beneath me, which you can see here (if the captions don’t show right away, hover over the bottom of the screen and click the CC button):
- That is completely and utterly it. Because I did this at home with wifi and my computer, the video quality is so much better than anytime I have been filmed giving a reading. I was actually surprised at how easy this was. Doing this can be considered literary citizenship work aimed at broadening and diversifying our audiences. If you are interested in other resources for making your literary and other events accessible, you can look at this collection-in-progress of accessibility resources gathered and curated by Action Together Southeastern Massachusetts.
- My son watched the first two seconds of the video and made fun of how much of a nerd I am, because really: who starts their online reading with “Woohooo!” and two index fingers in the air? Me, that’s who.
Sonya Huber is irrepressible. Additionally, she has written many wonderful books and also teaches at Fairfield University, where she directs the low-residency MFA program.
A very informative post. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing!
I still need to watch the whole video (I was away when it was first broadcast) but I wanted to say that I was immediately charmed and excited by the “Woohooo!” Needs of a feather, I suppose.
You’ve put together an awesome resource here. Thank you.
Sorry– nerds of a feather. That’s what I get for using my phone to leave comments.
Nerds of a Feather! ❤
Sonya, what a fabulous idea! And how generous of you to share your how-to list with us. I am a published author with a new book out, and I have a part-time job moderating a blog for Easterseals National Headquarters. I also happen to be blind. Easterseals is a large non-profit that helps people who have disabilities, and with your permission I’ll be publishing a post there this week referencing your list and linking to this Brevity post of yours. I also may give this video idea a try myself. My new book Writing Out Loud was just published last month by Golden Alley Press, a small independent publisher outside of Philadelphia. Writing Out Loud is my third book, and it covers some of the surprising events that led to my career as “the blind lady who teaches memoir-writing” and all I learn from the colorful older adults who attend my weekly classes here in Chicago. Older adults can have issues similar to those of us with disabilities, and this post of yours makes me realize many might enjoy watching/listening to a virtual book event from the comforts of home. So thanks for the great idea, and do let me know if it’s okay with you if I link here from an Easterseals blog post. _____
That would be fantastic! Yes, definitely link away, and I would love to see the post when you put it up. All the best, Sonya
Will let you know — thanks!
What a generous, detailed account of a process that would otherwise baffle me. Thank you, Sonya.
I came for the lesson, but stayed for the reading.
My wife works with people in chronic pain and with autoimmune conditions on a daily basis, and what you’re saying really resonated. So many of our clients and readers suffer, and what you are doing here really helps people.
Thanks for sharing the lesson and your ACTUAL work!
Dear Roland, I’m so glad to connect, and thank your wife for the important work she is doing!
Reblogged this on Her Headache.
Awesome article!! And of course the fact that it’s on Brevity’s blog is at least in part because it’s a PERFECT use of creative-non-fiction as a tool for providing detailed how to instruction. And you even included some psychological insight for us psychology nerds. Nice! So it’s brilliant of you and a great example and teaching tool in its own right. Meta rocks! One question, just to be sure I understand. I think you said this. It looks like of the two experiments with the two platforms, Facebook was best for finding an audience but its restrictive rules made the captions impossible. Youtube was the only one that successfully gave you captions. Right? Thanks again. Jerry
Irrepressible, indeed. Leave it to Sonya to consider this heart-felt thing: offering readings to those who can’t get out! I work with young adults “at risk” – many of whom have been “sentenced” to controlled housing through Child Family Services. I’d love for them to be able to give their own video readings. This has got me thinking of ways to do that. And…geeze Sonya – how do you know how to navigate this tech world? How to you have the patience to figure it out? And thank you for doing it!
Sonya, I can’t quite determine from what you wrote if when you held the live Facebook reading there was captioning — is that possible on Facebook (as opposed to uploading a video, using FB captioning and then posting the video? Thanks for thinking about access.
[…] “The typical literary reading presents an obstacle course for many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. From finding transportation and parking to staying up late to navigating stairs and chairs, every decision involves stress and difficulty. My recent essay collection, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays From a Nervous System, deals with the twists and turns of living with chronic pain, and I knew that I needed to find ways to connect with people with chronic pain. I was surprised to find that an online reading was easy and fun, and I believe this is something other authors can easily do to extend their own audiences and make literary readings more accessible.” Terrific post from Sonya Huber on the Brevity blog. […]
Reblogged this on Miriam's Well: Poetry, Land Art, and Beyond and commented:
I found this fascinating and original…