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
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.
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.
In the following video, we have turned on YouTube’s closed captioning feature for you, so you can see what this looks like.
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.
In this YouTube video, subtitles have been added to give a text version of the spoken dialogue.
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.
The following video provides a good example of an audio described YouTube video.
Sign language interpretation
A sign language interpreter translates dialogue and important sounds in the video, which is then made visible in the corner of the video.
A deaf or hard of hearing person’s first language may be sign language, which provides richer communication than captions as it can better reflect intonation, emotion and other sounds.
The following video is an example of an advert interpreted in British Sign Language, which also has open captions.
Note: Sign language interpretation is a WCAG 2.0 Level AAA guideline, which is often a costly endeavour and therefore out of scope for many organisations. You can quickly understand this when you consider that sign language interpretation is a specialist skill, and that various sign languages are used around the world. Many deaf and hard of hearing people rely on captions and subtitles, so these are prioritised as a WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA guidelines.
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: