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How Can I Ensure That Multimedia Content Is Accessible?

Dec 31, 2022

When you design with an accessible mindset, your goal is to consider all of your users, not a certain subset of the disabilities community. This can seem overwhelming, particularly when creating multimedia. Audio and video content can be especially challenging for people with disabilities, and content creators have a responsibility to provide an equivalent experience for as many people as possible.

To reach the widest possible audience — and to deliver your message as effectively as possible — you’ll need to review the best practices outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). As the most widely cited international standard for digital accessibility WCAG is based on four principles: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These principles can be extraordinarily helpful when creating content.

With that in mind, here’s a few quick tips to help you avoid common barriers. For more tips, read our checklist for creating accessible videos.

Provide text alternatives for all non-text content

Text alternatives are extremely important for accessibility. In fact, the very first guideline in the WCAG framework is Success Criterion 1.1.1, “Non-Text Content,” which requires webmasters to provide text alternatives for most non-text content. 

For multimedia, several types of text alternatives are available: 

  • Closed Captions - Captions are synchronized with multimedia and appear on-screen when audio plays. Well-written captions include spoken dialogue along with descriptions of important audio (such as musical cues and sound effects). When captions are “closed,” they can be turned on or off by the user. Some video players also allow users to adjust the text’s size, font, or language.
  • Open Captions - Open captions serve the same function as closed captions, but they’re rendered as a permanent part of the video. The user cannot turn them off or control them, which can create accessibility issues.
  • Transcripts - Transcripts provide the same information as captions, but are available as a separate document. They may also include descriptions of visual information included in the content.

All pre-recorded video content should include closed captions. We also recommend providing transcripts for all multimedia — some of your users may prefer transcripts over live media, and transcripts can be beneficial for search engine optimization (SEO). Since transcripts contain much of the same information as captions, you can create them fairly easily when planning your content.

Make sure your captions and transcripts are useful

Review your captions and transcripts to make sure they’re accurate and descriptive. Ask yourself: If I couldn’t hear the audio, would I miss any important information? 

Other tips to keep in mind:

    • Don’t rely on automatic captions and transcriptions. While some automated captioning tools are fairly accurate, they’re not perfect — and a few missed words might change your message.
    • Use a common, simple font for captions and transcripts. 
    • If possible, choose a multimedia player that allows users to change caption size. Make sure that your multimedia player is accessible for keyboard-only users.

Avoid using loud background noises

Loud background sounds and music can be distracting for people with hearing disabilities. The audio may prevent them from identifying speech. While captions can address this barrier, you’ll want to give your audience as many options as possible.

Keep background noise to at least 20 decibels lower than your spoken content. If possible, give your users the ability to turn off background noise. Additionally, try to keep volume levels consistent throughout your multimedia — sudden loud sounds can be annoying, so look for other ways to gain the viewers' attention.

Make sure users can control multimedia content

Users need simple, predictable ways to control your content. Some important considerations

  • Multimedia players should have text-based labels for all controls. Labels enable screen readers and other assistive technologies to describe the controls to users. Without accurate labels, users may not understand how to control playback.
  • Avoid autoplay. Autoplay can create numerous accessibility issues, and while autoplay media is fairly common, it has few benefits. 
  • Provide instructions and other information for complex content. If the user cannot control media with easily identifiable controls, make sure that your page provides them with the necessary information to start and stop playback, mute sound, and perform other important functions.

Test your media content for accessibility

This article contains basic tips for checking multimedia accessibility, but you’ll need to test content thoroughly before publishing. Content creators can perform some basic tests by accessing a website with a keyboard (no mouse) and by reviewing captions and transcripts thoroughly. 

Ask questions when reviewing your content:

  • Can I pause playback using my keyboard? 
  • Does my media use color alone to convey important information?
  • Does my content maintain an appropriate color contrast ratio
  • Can I improve my script by writing clearer narration or removing jargon?

No multimedia is 100% accessible for every user, but by prioritizing accessibility, you can make more compelling content for a much broader audience. 

Start prioritizing accessibility when planning multimedia content

Remediating accessibility issues can be time-consuming and expensive. Creators who prioritize people with disabilities can avoid quite a bit of unnecessary work. For instance, you can create transcripts and captions while writing your script, record alternative audio while shooting your video, and avoid color contrast issues when editing.

Remember, accessibility is an ongoing priority, not a one-time project. Make sure every member of your team shares your commitment to the best practices of WCAG (and if you’re unfamiliar with WCAG, our compliance roadmap provides an excellent introduction).

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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