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Checklist for Creating Accessible Videos

Apr 2, 2019

Videos are everywhere and are being regularly-consumed by more people everyday. According to Statista, there are currently 228 million digital video viewers in the United States, with projections at 236 million by 2020.

But how can you ensure everyone can access the great content you've created?

Creating accessible videos can drastically broaden their reach and usability. Unfortunately an often-overlooked part of video production, accessibility doesn't have to add significant time or cost, especially when considered from the beginning.

Who benefits from accessible videos?

An accessible video can be helpful to anyone at different times, but can be critical for many people with disabilities. With this in mind, here is a checklist for creating accessible videos. Some of these items are required and others are important to consider — and accounting for these factors will help you create an accessible video that lets you reach the broadest audience.

Steps to creating accessible videos

1. Create accessible video content

The material that makes up a video itself is critical to accessibility, and achieving accessible video content is much easier if the right steps and considerations are taken into account from the very beginning.

  • Use text that is easy to read:  When displaying text on screen, ensure the font size is large enough and text is on the screen for long enough to read.
  • Avoid fast-flashing content:  Flashing content in videos should be avoided or if included due diligence should be taken to ensure it meets the three-flashes-or-below threshold. Do not use videos that have more than three flashes within a period of 1 second, as this can provoke seizures in some users with seizure disorders.

2. Choose a current video format for the web

Entirely apart from a video's content, the format of the video file can have a big impact on its usability for everyone. Before creating a video or having one created for you, determine if the format the file will be delivered in is current enough to load and play seamlessly.

3. Choose an accessible video player

  • Ensure the video player supports captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions.
  • Ensure all controls, like volume, play, and pause, can be operated with a keyboard and have accessible labels for assistive technology such as screen readers.
  • Ensure videos do not play automatically when the webpage loads. This can be confusing for many users, and the sound can interfere with assistive technology such as screen readers.

4. Add captions to your video

WCAG Success Criterion 1.2.2 Captions (level A) says 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.”

This means every prerecorded video should have captions.

Captions are text alternatives of the audio content, synchronized with the video. Popular video hosting sites such as YouTube and Facebook have specific captioning options available.

Captions should not be confused with subtitles — they are similar, yet distinct from each other. While subtitles are a straightforward translation of the video’s dialogue, often times in a different language, captions not only have a text description of the spoken word but also include description of the background music or sound so as to provide the same level of information as one would get from hearing the audio.

To meet web content accessibility standards, always include captions to prerecorded videos or provide real-time captions for live videos. According to WebAIM, "captions should be:

  • Synchronized - the text content should appear at approximately the same time that audio would be available
  • Equivalent - content provided in captions should be equivalent to that of the spoken word
  • Accessible - caption content should be readily accessible and available to those who need it."

Benefits of captioning videos

Apart from the standard benefit most people think of — to make media accessible to people who are deaf or have hearing loss  captioning has additional benefits.

  • Captions help you increase your viewer base. Multilingual captions are a great way to make your video accessible to all. It opens up the audience to people who speak a language different from the language the video is created in and allows your content to have the widest reach for your message.
  • Captions help when watching videos in loud environments such as on the bus or places where you need to be quiet such as a library or work. It's estimated that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound.
  • Captions improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of your video as content in text form is better indexed by search engines.
  • Captions can be closed or open. Closed captions can be turned on or off, whereas open captions are always visible. For the sake of viewers’ convenience, most websites provide closed captions for video content. To read and understand more about closed captions, read Internet Closed Captioning Requirements.

5. Add a transcript to your video

Transcripts can be thought of as text versions of your video. A transcript should include not only what is spoken in the video, but also descriptions of actions or important information on-screen.

Usually, a fully-accessible video should include both captions and a transcript.

There are several options for creating a transcript:

  • Format and reuse captions: If you have already created a caption file, the same can be edited or added to and used as a transcript.
  • Use a professional transcribing services: There are many services that transcribe audio and video files and provide the transcript in HTML format for a fee.
  • Use a speech recognition software: Speech recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of the most popular software in the market. However, like any other voice assisted technology, this software needs “training” to understand the voice, accent, tone, etc. and has an initial learning curve.
  • Manually type up the content: If you are creating videos occasionally, this is a good DIY option.

Benefits of transcribing your video

Including a transcript to your video has added benefits.

  • A person who is blind, has other disabilities, or otherwise cannot or prefers not to watch the video will still be able to get all the information in text form.
  • A person using assistive technology such as a screen reader to access a transcript may be able to get the same content in less time than listening to the actual audio content. This is because experienced screen reader users may increase their reading speed to a pace much faster than we speak.
  • Including transcripts can be helpful to everyone at different times — for example, when people don't want to spend the time to watch the video but will scan a transcript to get the information they want quickly.
  • Including a transcript makes your video more searchable as content in text form is better indexed by search engines.

6. Include audio description if needed

In cases where important information or actions are happening on-screen but are not clearly described or apparent in the audio track, an audio description can help fill in the missing information for someone who can't see what's being displayed. 

In the defined terms of Section 508 standards, audio description is defined as, "Narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. Audio description is a means to inform individuals who are blind or who have low vision about visual content essential for comprehension. Audio description of video provides information about actions, characters, scene changes, on-screen text, and other visual content. Audio description supplements the regular audio track of a program. Audio description is usually added during existing pauses in dialogue. Audio description is also called “video description” and “descriptive narration”.

One of the keys in this definition is that descriptive audio is usually added during existing pauses. There is absolutely a science and an art to this, but consider how providing succinct descriptions during natural pauses can help a viewer have complete understanding of the scene.

If videos are created with accessibility in mind, audio descriptions probably aren't necessary, as long as important visual elements of the video are described in the audio track itself. Or, if for example the entire video is a man speaking at a podium (or some other relatively static presentation), audio descriptions would usually be considered unnecessary.

Accessible video recap

An accessible video usually includes captions; a transcript; and careful use of color, text, and flashes or animation. A video should also be delivered in an accessible format with an accessible media player, and may include additional audio description when the default audio track isn't sufficient.

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