What makes a video accessible?

We’ve seen accessibility at work in video for decades. We are used to seeing subtitles as an option on television, but with video being increasingly used online many web pages are compromising their accessibility by not having accessible video content.

There are essentially four elements that a video may need to be considered accessible. Not every video needs every element though. The WCAG 2.0 standard states under Guideline 1.2 that alternatives must be provided for time-based media, but what are these alternatives?

Video accessibility definitions

Transcripts

Written text versions of video (or audio) content. This includes all spoken words and notation for who is speaking and important sounds.

Transcripts are often added as a downloadable document or as part of the video description on services such as YouTube. They allow those who can’t access audio or video content to access the content in plain text. They also allow people who may not want to watch the video to read the information you are providing.

Captions

Speech and non-verbal sounds rendered as text at the bottom of a video. You can think of them as transcribed text that appears as the video is being played.

Captions (closed captions or CC) help people who cannot hear or are hard of hearing to access multimedia, since they can see what’s happening on the screen but need the sound to explain what is happening. Imagine watching the film “Jaws” without the famous ‘duna, duna, dunadunaduna’ as the shark approaches. Captions are typically written in the same language as the audio.

Subtitles

Spoken dialogue rendered as text at the bottom of a video.

Subtitles are mainly used to accommodate language barriers, translating the audio content. While same language subtitles can help some deaf people, they typically do not provide sufficient information.

Note: In some countries, captions are called subtitles, which is why you may see closed captions appear when you press the “Subtitles” button on your television remote.

Audio description

An audio narration that describes visual aspects of a video alongside the original soundtrack.

Primarily used by blind people, audio description (AD) describes important visual elements in the same way that captions capture important sound for deaf people. For example, audio description would announce movements or scene changes such as someone walking in or out of a room, body language, text on screen, etc.

What should you be doing to your videos?

We believe for all videos to meet a basic level of accessibility, a transcript and captions should be provided. It doesn’t need to be expensive to produce these as YouTube has built-in tools that will automatically generate these for you, saving you time. Whilst automated tools are a good starting point, we strongly advise people to edit these manually. Also, YouTube’s automatic captioning can create a SubRip text (.srt) file that can be used to add the same captions and timings to a Facebook video.

Accessibility for blind or visually impaired people can be improved further using audio description. However, not all content benefits from audio description. If your video is of an interview where someone is standing still talking, or the narrator is describing what is happening themselves, audio description isn’t needed. Audio description typically fits into natural pauses in the audio, but sometimes that’s not enough time to describe everything, so a second video with extended audio description may be needed.

Another option that some people choose to add to their videos for greater inclusivity is sign language interpretation, where a small inset video of someone signing the speech is added.

Customer story: Virgin Atlantic

We completed a series of destination guide videos for Virgin Atlantic, retrospectively adding captions and subtitles to their videos on YouTube and providing them with transcripts. To begin with, transcripts for each of the videos were audio typed. The videos were tourist guides, so ensuring the correct spelling of towns, hotels and places of interest was especially important.

Once a transcript was produced it was added to YouTube and all timings manually set. Whilst YouTube does this automatically it can’t ensure that text is properly synchronised with scenes, so manual editing allows for a professional finish.

Check the Virgin Atlantic destination guides to see how great your captions and subtitles could be:

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