From social media to web pages and YouTube, video is a format that is popular and effective for any age group. Statistics show that the demand for it is still increasing, and the power of video for making purchasing decisions is second to none. However, video accessibility is not the same for everyone. People with disabilities are one of the groups that finds it hard to understand the meaning behind some videos, and creating accessible video formats is the only way to overcome this barrier.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have different levels of meeting user needs with checklists for audio and video. More information can be found on the official W3 website.
Who Can Benefit From Video Accessibility?
As we said above, people with disabilities can benefit from accessible videos. The best way to optimize your videos is by adding audio descriptions in the form of captioning so that all members of the audience can access and interact with the content.
An accessible video includes captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions. It is delivered through an accessible video player which is used specifically by these people.
Captions are a great way to assist video accessibility to people who are deaf or have hearing impairments. They are basically text versions of audio content that are synchronized with the video. In many cases, captions are mandatory (for the staff or students enrolling in courses), which is why you should provide them.
Besides impaired users, captions can also help regular users watch videos in loud environments or places where they need to be quiet (library or work). They also improve search engine optimization (SEO) and help it get indexed by search engines.
There are two forms of captions: closed and open. Closed captions can be turned on and off, while open captioning is always visible. Most websites provide closed captions.
If you want to focus on video accessible to people such as students, employees, or other members of the public who are either deaf or hard of heading, you should transcribe your videos in a caption file (a plain text file with time codes indicating the start and stop times). You can either do this process yourself or outsource it to a professional.
Keep in mind that captions differ on various video players. There are numerous guides on adding captions to YouTube videos, ones on web pages, Zoom, social media, etc.
An audio description is a narrative audio track that describes all the important visual content or the context spoken in the video. It makes the content accessible and benefits people who cannot watch the video (blind visually impaired users). Adding audio descriptions is easy and should summarize the information present in the video.
Also, an audio description can help fill in all of the missing information or provide more details for users who can’t see what is being displayed. The defined terms of Section 508 standards define audio descriptions as “narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone.”
Should You Always Create Audio Descriptions?
If you are creating videos with accessibility in mind, an audio description is of equal importance to a standard description. However, if the videos are self-explanatory (ex. a person speaking at a podium), adding an audio description other than the text version would be considered unnecessary.
How To Create Accessible Videos?
Below is a six-step process for helping viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing watch videos without any problems.
1. Create accessible video content
The first step is to use text that is easy to read and colors that have good contrast. You can use our FREE color contrast checker to run a test. Avoid fast-flashing content as it can provoke seizures in some users.
Also, if you are specifically targeting an audience with disabilities, you can use sign language. Typically, you will want to include an interpreter using sign language in a small window within your video.
2. Choose the right video format for the web
The format of your media file has a big impact on its usability. Before creating the video, see if the file will be delivered well on screen and play seamlessly. Consider its size and compatibility with the location you want to use (ex. some social media channels only accept a couple of video media formats).
3. Choose an accessible video media player
When planning for accessibility for video formats, you should ensure that your media player supports all of the things discussed above (captioning, audio transcript and descriptions, etc.). Also, you should test all of the controls and ensure that they can be operated with a keyboard and have assistive technology like screen readers.
4. Add captions to your videos
The WCAG Success Criteria on Caption use says that captions should be “provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.”
As we said above, captioning your videos improves your SEO, helps all users, and even helps you increase your viewer base. You can choose between open captions that are always visible and good for everyone, or closed captioning that can be turned on and off. Anyways, having a caption at every moment during your video is great for users with disabilities.
You should not confuse captions with subtitles, though. Subtitles are translations of the video’s dialogue (usually in a different language), while captions not only have a text description of what is spoken but also a description of the background music or sound. the idea is to provide the same level of information anyone would get from hearing the audio.
5. Add interactive audio transcript to your video
The best way to describe transcripts is as text versions of your video. When planning for proper video accessibility, these visual elements are important for blind users. They should include all of the visual information presented in the video, as well as descriptions of actions or other notable information in it. A fully accessible video includes both captions and a transcript.
An interactive transcript benefits users in many ways. For instance, transcripts can benefit people who are blind, have other disabilities, or otherwise can’t or don’t want to watch the video and prefer getting the information summarized in a text form. It also helps people using voice assistive technologies (screen reader software, speech recognition software) and gets the same content in less time than listening to actual audio content. Experienced screen reader users can even increase their speed to a pace faster than we speak.
6. If needed, include an audio description
An audio description helps summarize the visual information from a video, especially in cases when it is not clearly described or appears in the audio track. They are usually added during existing pauses in a dialogue, which is why it is also called video description or descriptive narration.
Accessible video content is one that helps people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The format requires the use of captions, a transcript, and careful use of text, color contrast, and flashes of animation. To make the most from accessibility, work with an accessible media player, and may include an audio description when the information in the default audio track is insufficient.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.