Videos are perhaps the web’s most powerful tool for educating and entertaining. Last year, YouTube reported that users consume more than 1 billion hours of video content on the website every day.
And it’s not just Netflix and Hulu that people are checking out. Increasingly, state and local government websites are leveraging video for a variety of purposes: promoting tourism, issuing storm warnings, updating viewers on new urban development projects, informing citizens how to vote, releasing messages from the mayor’s office, and other important happenings.
Being truly inclusive when building your website means that your videos must be accessible to everyone — including people with disabilities. If you fail to provide accessibility methods, such as closed captioning and transcripts, community members with hearing impairments will find it harder to learn about neighborhood improvement programs or find out what happened at the last city council meeting, which impedes participation in the community. Improving video accessibility on your state or local website is just one way to make it easier for the 19% of Americans with disabilities to become active participants in their communities.
Guidelines for Video Accessibility
A variety of federal legislation requires state and local government websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Some of the relevant laws and regulations include:
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973): Programs that receive federal funding must not discriminate or exclude people on the basis of disability.
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990): All state and local government activities must not discriminate or exclude people on the basis of disability. In particular, “communications” with people with disabilities must be “as effective” as communications with people without disabilities.
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (1998): “Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation,” such as captions, must be synchronized with the presentation.
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (2010): Online videos that were previously shown with captions on television must also have captions when distributed on the web.
- ICT Refresh of Section 508 (2017): Section 508 is updated for modern web technology. Websites, electronic documents, and software must comply with the Level A and Level AA success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. All federally funded organizations must be in compliance with this legislation by January 18, 2018.
WCAG 2.0 is the most popular set of standards for web accessibility, and its use in the ICT refresh of Section 508 gives it further credibility in the eyes of the federal government. The Level AA criteria include several requirements for video accessibility:
- Pre-recorded video content must have an audio description.
- All pre-recorded and live audio content must have captions, unless the content is an alternative for text.
If your organization fails to comply with the legislation above, it could be at legal risk. The federal government’s use of the ADA in order to make websites more accessible has sharply increased in recent years. For example, in 2016, the Department of Justice charged the University of California, Berkeley, a publicly funded university, with violating Title II of the ADA because many of the lecture videos that the university published online did not have adequate closed captioning.
There’s a lot to gain from making the videos on your state or local government website more accessible — and there’s also a lot to lose if you find yourself the target of a DOJ lawsuit. If you need advice on how your organization needs should pursue greater accessibility, BoIA is able to help. We provide a free graded report of your website’s compliance with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards.