Video content is great at piquing audience attention, creating shareable social media content, and providing some variety in your online presence. Making videos accessible has been Amara’s mission since it was first created by the Participatory Culture Foundation. As we spend more time online in our personal and professional lives, accessibility has become a prevalent conversation in online video communities large and small.
One upcoming change to video accessibility is the deprecation of Flash video. As announced by Adobe and many browser vendors, their support for Flash video will be ending after December 2020. Instead of Flash, HTML5 videos will be the standard.
An important point about HTML5 videos is their robust video accessibility support maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). For individuals who are blind or have visual disabilities, online media is especially challenging to access. Many consumers who are blind use screen readers which read online content out loud.
Older Flash videos did not work well with screen readers. Looping videos and malfunctioning keyboard controls made it difficult for people with screen readers to enjoy video content.
HTML5 allows for easier access and control in your browser. You do not have to install a plug-in to use it. After your page loads, you can begin any video by pressing Enter or the Spacebar key with the video selected. And for in-video buttons, you can navigate within the video player using Tab or Shift+Tab keys.
While video accessibility has improved considerably, we want to keep the conversation fresh and friendly for creators who are ready to take their next steps. So, aside from this built-in browser accessibility, what exactly can creators do to make their videos accessible to disabled audiences?
First Impressions Matter
Make sure your audience feels respected when they find your content by making your content accessible to them.
A surprising piece of accessibility advice is to think twice about using a trailer on your channel. Trailers seem like a good idea, but trailers auto-play when the page loads, which can be disorienting for some users. For people with visual impairments using screen readers, the audio from your video can play over what the other content that the screen reader is saying out loud. This creates a cacophony of unpleasantly overlapping sounds. And your audience member might become frustrated and click away. You can remove your channel trailer by clicking Your channel > Customize Channel and then removing your Feature content on your channel homepage.
Avoid Flashing Content
For the benefit of people with epilepsy or people who are susceptible to migraines, try not to include flashing content. You can check your content for dangerous flashing using Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tools (PEAT) online like this one. Or you can follow some simple guidelines to better understand how flashing content affects your viewers.
Create a Transcript
For Deaf or Hard of Hearing audience members, creating a transcript is a simple way to provide an alternative to understand and enjoy your content. If they cannot easily access your audio and then see that you created a transcript, your audience will have proof that you care about their experience.
So how do you create a text transcript for your video?
Your transcript should convey all of the spoken parts of your video. Make it clear who is speaking by adding a speaker tag at the beginning of each paragraph break. Each time a new speaker starts, even in a dialog, create a paragraph break. This visual cue makes it easier to follow along as the video plays.
Some audience members might have difficulty processing auditory information, so they often use transcripts so they can read at their own pace.
Captions are text boxes shown in the video player that are synchronized to the video timing. Captions are different from subtitles because they are in the same language as the video and capture all of the plot-important audio information. This includes sounds that occur off-screen: footsteps behind a character, a storm starting outside, or an ominous knock on the door.
Good captions also capture the tone or genre of music played over a scene. If an ominous song plays during a wedding scene, then the Deaf or Hard of Hearing audience member is left out of the foreshadowing or joke. Captions should match the video and convey the same information that a hearing audience member enjoys while watching your video content. It’s about creating an experience with respect to your audience’s abilities.
If you have a transcript for your video before you create it, it will be easier to create captions afterwards. And having captions for a video makes it easier to create subtitles in other languages, including sign language for Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences.
Check out these subtitling guidelines to create quality subtitles through collaboration, readability, and an audience-first focus.
Activity-Based or Audio Description
Some people who are blind or have low vision can’t see videos well or at all. They can use audio description of visual information to understand what’s going on visually in the video. These are audio files that are played alongside the audio of a video that describe the scenes and settings of the video.
Other audience members might have difficulty processing visual cues for reasons other than low vision. They can benefit from using activity-based description, which are subtitles that convey the actions of characters in a scene.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash (edited to add example of Activity Based Description)
Creating Accessible Text
Any time you create text to be displayed on-screen in your video, make sure that it is accessible to your audience. It should be a reasonably large font size and remains on screen for enough time for your audience to read it.
The color of the text and its background should be different enough for easy reading. Make sure that your contrast ratio is at least 7:1 to meet the AAA standard for people with low vision. Use color contrast checkers to verify the accessibility of your color choice before publishing your video:
When you are synchronizing captions to your video, make sure there is enough time to read. The reading rate for a set of captions is measured in characters per second. This is especially important for audience members that have difficulty processing new information.
- For most languages: up to 25 characters per second
- For Japanese, Chinese, and Korean: up to 10 characters per second
And some video platforms limit the running length of a video, which provides the unfortunate temptation for creators to pack more information in through walls of text. On TikTok and Instagram Reels, some creators actually ask their audience to pause their video to read the text on-screen. Instead of cutting down the text on screen or splitting up videos into manageable pieces, asking audiences to pause a video is a way to avoid the responsibility of creating accessible content from the start.
Another thing to be mindful of during video production is to not overwhelm audiences with overlapping audio and visual information. The overwhelming majority of videos on Instagram Reels and TikTok, for example, have sampled audio from songs or from other videos played over the original content. If you browse through these videos, you might find a clip of someone talking over music while pointing to additional information in text overlayed on their video. That’s three different sources of information at the same time! It can be jarring for people with information processing problems to play a video and be greeted with a wall of text, a stream of spoken words, and remixed background audio– none of which match one another.
Ensuring Caption Quality
While there are accessibility tools to look forward to in the future of video accessibility, that future is made brighter by the enthusiastic and intelligent involvement of language communities.
Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology has come a long way. And it can be a great starting point for subtitles. But when it comes to understanding the complexity of language in the context of culture, human minds are still the best. Idioms, technical content, cultural references and more can stump Siri, Alexa, or ASR captioning. One character with an accent, stutter, or mumbling affectation can make ASR stop in its tracks:
Developers have even put in protocols to help users solve problems with ASR to deal with communication problems— humans continue to be an important part of the ASR process. Automatic Speech Recognition mistakes can be used in humorous ways, as the comedy duo Rhett and Link have proven in their series “Caption Fail.”
But for viewers who rely on captions, poor quality can be a deal-breaker. Mistakes made by Automated Speech Recognition make captions unreadable and the related content unwatchable. Being excited to access content and then hitting an insurmountable wall is incredibly frustrating. Creating captions carefully is a way to remove barriers to your content and show respect for your audience. So how can you ensure quality in your video captions?
Human reviewers can clean up mistakes and make sure that even the most accurate ASR captioning communicates the necessary information. People do not always speak clearly; some stutter, stumble, or repeat themselves. But especially when capturing information in captions, there is limited space. Editing down the verbal noise in order to capture the important information is essential in creating quality captions.
Captions need human reviewers who care about the final audience. Crowd-sourced captioning without careful review can result in captions packed with spam, profanity, self-promotion, or just mistakes. Poor quality captions make it hard for the audience to enjoy content.
Amara Community allows you to create a space where expectations can be set and met. Invite specific people to join your team and build an engaged community that cares about video accessibility.
Set Your Standards
You can customize subtitle guidelines that show up in the editor. In an Amara Community team, go to Settings > Subtitling Guidelines to edit transcription guidelines for captions and translation guidelines for translated subtitles. Or you can leave the Subtitle Guidelines page blank to choose to keep Amara’s default guidelines which help your team create readable quality subtitles.
You can add important branding terms or technical definitions to your guidelines to ensure that your videos are captioned accurately.
You can also choose to add a review step to your subtitle workflow. In an Amara Community team, go to Settings > Subtitle Workflow to make review mandatory before captions and subtitles are viewable by audiences to view. Knowing that your work is going to be reviewed brings accountability to your team workflow that is not found in most crowd-sourced captioning efforts.
Explore more about multimedia accessibility through the Web Accessibility Initiative by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Whether you are producing videos on your own or with help from a production firm, prioritizing accessibility improves your relationship with your audience. Creating accessible video boosts your SEO so it is easier for people to find your content. And showing your audience-centric focus builds a solid community foundation.