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Tips for Making Multimedia Accessible for People With Hearing Disabilities

Dec 23, 2021

Is your multimedia content accessible for people with hearing disabilities?

If you’ve never considered this segment of your audience, it’s time to start: About 15% of American adults report some trouble with their hearing. Many hearing-related disabilities affect the ways that people interact with content; when media isn’t accessible for everyone, it’s much less useful for delivering information and promoting your brand. 

Below, we’ll discuss some quick tips for making videos, podcasts, and other multimedia content more accessible. For more guidance, read our Checklist for Creating Accessible Videos.

Offer captions and transcripts for all multimedia content

The terms “closed captions" and “transcripts" are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing: Closed captions appear on (or alongside) a video, while transcripts are accessible without viewing the content. Both can be helpful for people with hearing disabilities.

Captions are essential, but they can also create accessibility issues. For example, if captions take up too much room, they might cover important information. Additionally, some people might find captions distracting. Wherever possible, give users the ability to turn captions on and off. Avoid using pre-rendered (or “burned-in" captions) unless your multimedia platform doesn’t support optional captions.

Provide accurate transcripts for all content that includes audio, regardless of whether that content has closed captions. Since text alternatives provide search engines with important context, transcripts are an excellent tool for search engine optimization, and they’re useful for your entire audience.

Read: What Website Developers Need to Know About Closed Captions

Ask questions when planning your multimedia content

We’ve written extensively about the importance of an accessible mindset, and it’s especially important when creating multimedia content. You’ll need to consider your entire audience when writing, producing, editing, and publishing your content, including (but not limited to) people with hearing disabilities. 

Get into the habit of asking questions when planning your multimedia content: 

  • Will my content use sound effects or other audio cues to deliver information? 
  • Will my content deliver information visually? 
  • Does the speaker’s tone or inflection change the meaning of the content? 

If you answer “yes" to any of these questions, you’ll need to make sure your closed captions and transcript provide all of the information that users need. For example, if your video uses sound effects, those sound effects should appear in the closed captions and the transcript. 

Read: Fixing Accessibility Is Important, But Planning for Accessibility Is Better

Avoid common multimedia mistakes that create accessibility barriers

Providing text alternatives (such as closed captions and transcripts) is crucial, but other accessibility issues can affect how your audience perceives your content. Here are a few helpful considerations to keep in mind.

Keep your video volume at a consistent level

Ideally, your website should maintain a consistent volume for all audio. Some users may turn up the volume to hear a video or podcast; if your content is much quieter or louder than anticipated, these users might become frustrated. 

Normalization maintains a steady volume level throughout your content. Your production team should have consistent standards for audio normalization. If your audio uses volume changes for effect, provide users with a warning and timestamps for the changes.

Make sure your media player is accessible

Users should be able to control your media player with a keyboard alone (no mouse) or with assistive technologies like screen readers. Choose a media player with strong accessibility features and test your content thoroughly before publishing.

Avoid using autoplay

Many browsers mute autoplay videos by default, and for good reason: Autoplay media can cause serious accessibility issues. If your website must use autoplay, users should be able to immediately stop playback with simple commands. However, the best practice is to avoid automatic playback entirely.

Consider your entire audience when creating multimedia content

Remember, you’re developing content for everyone — not just people with a specific disability. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which offers excellent guidance for maintaining accessibility when using multimedia; WAI also offers a dedicated page, “Making Audio and Video Media Accessible,” with resources for content planning.

By thinking about accessibility during the creation process, you can avoid some of the mistakes that create barriers for your audience — and limit the time you spend remediating issues. 

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