Video accessibility guide for content creators and viewers

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Video is the most popular content online and will account for 82 percent of all web traffic by 2022, according to estimates from Cisco. Video content to connect with audiences is now essential for businesses, marketing professionals, content creators, and anyone in related fields.

But there's a significant problem with video content: Creators aren't making their videos accessible and therefore missing out on reaching a sizeable audience of people with disabilities. Nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population has a disability — whether from birth, by accident, or via old age, according to 2019 U.S. Census data.

What does "accessible" mean? Accessible content, such as videos, are made to be engaged with or viewed by people with visual impairments, hearing loss or deafness, limited dexterity or mobility, cognitive impairments, or other relevant needs. Making videos accessible helps those with disabilities have a comparable experience with your content as someone without a disability.

Making accessible videos not only helps those with disabilities but can also benefit others who want to engage with your videos in different ways. For example, adding text captions are both for the hearing impaired and people who simply want to watch with the sound off. Most importantly, accessible content can help your business and marketing efforts. Making videos accessible is valuable, usually low-cost, and doesn't add that much time to production if you know what you're doing — making it a win-win for everyone.

What is media accessibility?

Media accessibility refers to the process of adapting content, devices, and services for people with different levels of ability. It includes media production practices that are accessible to people who cannot use traditional methods, such as print. One common example includes writing a web image’s alt text so as to better help screen-reading tools describe the image to visually impaired readers. Including transcripts in the notes of YouTube videos for those with hearing loss also falls under this category.

People don't inherently possess equal abilities — any more than equal intelligence or physical features — yet technologies are often designed around particular user groups' capacities even though many individual users may find them difficult to use or engage with.

Media accessibility plays a vital role in leveling the playing field so everyone can view and engage with important information, including educational, entertainment, and communication tools — without barriers. Media access also involves making it possible for all users to engage with these materials on their own terms.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were put in place by the World Wide Web Consortium. The WCAG was created to help web developers create pages that are accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities. This includes a range of age-related issues, cognitive and physical abilities, language differences, and more.

WCAG provides a set of standards for accessibility that have three levels of compliance: Achieving Level A compliance with the guidelines makes your web site at least 80 percent compliant. Level AA compliance makes your site at least 95 percent compliant, and Level AAA on the guidelines makes your site 100 percent compliant.

Some things you can do to comply with WCAG:

While everyone has a moral obligation to make their website and its content accessible, Kim Krause Berg, owner of Creative Vision Web Consulting, reports that there can be legal ramifications if a public website is not compliant. Every site is unique, and the legalities of The American Disabilities Act (ADA), which generally accepts the protocols of the WCAG for websites, will need to be carefully researched. It is not difficult nor time-consuming to edit your videos, so it’s never too late if you find content or web pages that are not in compliance.

Who benefits from web accessibility?

Web accessibility can benefit those with and without disabilities. For those who are hard of hearing, visually impaired, have difficulty processing auditory information, struggle to focus and comprehend auditory or visual information, or any other related conditions, web accessibility gives the ability to access the same information as anyone else.

For those who are not disabled, web accessibility can still help. For example, in sound-prohibitive environments, viewers can watch accessible video content and read the information or captions without disturbing those around them. Similarly, someone in a very noisy environment or in a very quiet environment might appreciate watching a video with subtitles rather than sound, giving them the flexibility to consume the video when and where they want without having to find a quiet place and without disturbing others.

User experience and business benefits

Web accessibility carries business and user experience (UX) benefits as well:

Being more inclusive: Web accessibility helps create a better user experience through inclusivity. Good UX is about ease of use for all — not just the more technically savvy, for example... You can see good examples of this in various online everyday tasks such as shopping through ecommerce sites, looking up contact details of public companies or finding a job, and watching videos. When content is accessible, it becomes more inclusive because it reduces fear, anxiety, and difficulty for people who have challenges with certain online operations.

Reaching a wider audience: Web accessibility allows businesses to reach a wider audience by making their site accessible to people with disabilities, including those who are blind or deaf. This means more people can engage and understand your website, brand, and business.

Improving SEO: It is easier for search engines to index the information on your site through text rather than video or images. Providing alternative text for photos, and transcripts for videos, can send stronger signals to search engines about the nature of your site and its content.

Increasing usability: Not all organizations have a team of web designers, so it's essential to know the basics. Basic usability is a fancy term for making sure that your website is easy for the average visitor to use. You want your website to be valuable and accessible to any user that might come across it. For example, you might need to consider people with low vision because this can affect their ability to read online content.

One of the most critical considerations in building a website is making sure that users can find their way around your site easily. For this reason, navigation should always be straightforward. It should also be in a logical order so users can see the information they are looking for without difficulty.

Considerations when making accessible videos

Create an accessible video when the content has any speech or other audio that is core to the story, and/or if it contains visual information, such as important data or contact numbers, for example. The captions or descriptions should be as clear as possible to give the reader a full picture of your content. A key tool in ensuring you are fully addressing usability and accessibility considerations in your video content is using a professional video editing program. While basic, free, or online video editors may allow you to quickly produce a video, professional software can provide more features that aid you in abiding by all relevant laws and serving all potential audiences.

Choose fonts that are accessible so that people with disabilities can read them easily. When making a text font accessible, you should use fonts that have been designed to incorporate accessibility features, such as larger spacing between letters and serifs or decorative strokes.

Avoid potentially distracting flashing animations in text because they may draw readers’ focus away from what they are trying to read and may cause seizures in some viewers.

You can use color to provide contrast for readability or to highlight important points, but be sure to use it cautiously because it can be distracting. It will help to understand color accessibility, the effects of color temperature, and correct the color in your videos.

Using captions and transcripts for accessibility

Platforms such as YouTube automatically add text to video using speech recognition technology. A great start, but these automatic captions may contain errors due to inaccuracies in speech recognition technology or inconsistencies in style across different speakers, accents, or dialects.

Automatically-generated captions provide general information about what's being said by speakers in a video, but are not necessarily sufficient for making video content fully accessible. Automatic transcript generation is even less reliable and you should not employ it by itself to convey all information. These tools can be a good starting point, but spending a little time to review and revise captions and transcripts will take it to the next level of comprehension and professionalism.

Video captions

Captions are not just words written at the bottom of a video so that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can read along with what's being said in speech. Captions convey all the information that comes out of peoples' mouths — including dialogue and narration, but also sound effects and other aural information. Captions can also serve as a valuable learning tool for individuals learning to read, and they provide access to videos on a small screen for individuals who have impaired vision.

You should plan to use captions on any video that has audio content and may be watched by a diverse audience. Captions and transcripts will provide access to otherwise inaccessible information and may make it easier for everyone to understand what's being said.

Closed captions refer to written dialogue and narration in a video and can be encoded within videos. Closed captions are helpful for people who would like to watch their favorite shows from another country or do not speak the same language as the presenter. Closed captions also enable deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to experience your content despite sound issues.

Open captions are decoded from an existing subtitle file, usually generated by a translation service provided by various third parties. These subtitle streams may offer more options for display but are limited only to the languages supported by that service.

Video transcripts

Transcripts go even further than captions alone by offering the full text of all that is said in a video. In addition to conveying dialogue and narration, transcripts allow people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or those who cannot listen to an audio file at all (due to a disability or technology limitation) to search through and find specific information within a presentation.

Transcripts also make video content more accessible for individuals with reading disabilities because they don’t have to keep up with screen captions that may disappear too quickly. Transcripts allow someone to search for specific words and phrases within the presentation because they contain the complete text of what's spoken in the video.

A media alternative transcript is a text-based version of a video's dialogue that also includes written descriptions of what is seen on screen. These are designed for the blind or those with limited sight and are formatted for a screen reader or other assistive technology for disabled people. A third party commonly produces media alternative transcription.

Audio descriptions for visual information

If you are following the WCAG guidelines, audio descriptions are required under Level AA compliance. This means that if your website or webpage includes any video, animation, image, or infographic, you are required to provide audio descriptions for it. If not, you may not comply with the various laws and regulations that govern accessibility in the United States.

Visual information includes any signs, symbols, images (such as pictures or infographics), videos (such as documentaries, movies, etc.), and animations. Audio descriptions provide the necessary information about these visual media to aid in comprehension for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Audio descriptions may also assist in understanding the content of a scene, even the B-roll content so that one does not miss anything when they cannot physically see what is occurring.

There are two types of audio descriptions — standard and extended. Standard audio description provides the main information about an image, scene, or video through narration. It is just enough detail to describe what is happening within that frame. Extended audio description supplies the minutiae of every action that occurs over time in a series of frames. The extended version may include sound effects and environmental sounds not included in standard audio description.

Audio description best practices include:

Accessible video formats and players.

Video formats for a video description should be accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Most videos on Vimeo and YouTube automatically include this, as the video player can show the description as text below or to the side of where you would watch it. However, hosted videos from other sources such as personal websites might not have an appropriate format by default, so you will want to make sure your videos are appropriately captioned, transcribed, and have proper audio descriptions.

Additionally, video conversion will be necessary for making accessible videos. Most video players and video-sharing websites will allow you to change the quality of your video so that it does not require a lot of bandwidth to stream. Low bandwidth can result in a poor user experience that is slow, garbled, or low quality. However, videos with audio descriptions use more bandwidth than regular videos because there is an additional track of information about what is happening in the video. This is often a separate file for the audio description alongside the main video file. The best way to optimize your video's bandwidth usage is by compressing or converting your videos into different formats, which can save you considerable bandwidth when hosting large files.

Resources for media consumers with a disability

The following apps are for those who are hard of hearing and those with visual impairments. Along with accessible video, you can use these apps for more assistance in everyday situations.

Apps for those who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Apps for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Additional accessibility resources.

Additional video production resources.