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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Making Videos Accessible – 7 tips for making videos accessible on the website

A website has many ways to share the information with their users such as textual content, Pictures, Audios and Videos. As a picture is worth a thousand words, similarly, a video is worth a thousand pictures. Thousands of articles, blog posts and white papers are written and available over internet on how to make images accessible for users with different abilities but there is not much information on how to make videos accessible to the users.

The little information which is available is not much helpful as either it is incomplete or it revolves more around visual and auditory disabilities and does not focus on other kind of disabilities. The possible reason for this could be that the less number of videos are published when compared to the images on any website. But this should not allow web masters to ignore the accessibility around the videos. The purpose of writing this article is to provide a feasible solution for making the videos accessible for all class of users of the websites.

Why Videos should be made accessible?

A video is more informational than any other medium. For example, an image can only show how to use a device but a video can be more informative by mimicking the uses of the device; this makes a video more user friendly for the users. Making videos accessible will help the different classes of users who can’t effectively use the videos for whatever reasons.

How to make videos accessible for the users?

The ideas listed below are outcome of brainstorming I did on the subject and can be used to make the videos accessible for any class of website users.

Remember, these ideas do not help web masters to make accessible videos; they help web masters to make videos accessible for their website users.

1. Provide Captions/ Script Transcriptions along with the videos

The Captions help users with aural disabilities to learn the content of the video. There are two types of captions – Open and Closed. The Open captions are burned-in with the video while Closed Captions are written in separate file which run with video. Personally, I think that Closed Captions should be used with videos because user can control them by switching on/off.

Script Transcriptions are the text content of the video’s provided in separate file. They are similar to Closed Captions file except time stamp is not needed for Transcriptions.

2. Alternative Text for Videos

Does this sound weird to you to provide alternative text for videos as it is supposed to be for images and not for videos?

What is a video? – A collection of moving visual images.

The first guideline to make any website accessible is to provide alternative text for all meaningful images; then why videos are exceptional. It is perhaps because of videos make more sense to user. So, why do we need alternative text for videos?

We need alternative text for those videos which do not make sense to the users. For example, when I watched the movie ‘The Matrix’ for the first time, I liked the action sequences in the movie but the story didn’t make much sense. By the second time, the movie made some more sense to me; but still a few things were unclear. Then, I read the plot of the movie and I got the gist of it. Next time, it was all clear. In fact, reading the plot of the first part of this movie made it easier for me to understand the rest of the sequels.

Decision of providing alternative text with the videos should be context – based. For example, if Caption/Script Transcription is already available and descriptive enough, the alternative text can be ignored. But, a video with no audio should have alternative text to explain the content to users with visual/cognitive disabilities.

3. Accessible Media Player

An accessible media player could help more than anything else to make the video content accessible for the users. For Example,

  • Having a keyboard accessible media player can help users with visual, aural, mobility or cognitive disabilities.
  • For low vision/partial blind users, I advise users to use media player with Full Screen and zoom options so that users can set the video to adequate size to view it.
  • Providing a volume control in the media player can be a good idea for the users who are hard of hearing. They can set the volume to an adequate hearing level.
  • The web media player being used should also have features such as Play/Pause, Forward/Backward and Captions On/Off buttons. These features might seem common and available in almost every web media player but they do help the website users to a great extent. For example, If a user is hard of hearing, he can go back to hear the missed word or a user with cognitive disability might want to control the video and play according to his comfort.

If your media player has such features, don’t disable them. Let the users use them.

Mindmap for Videos Accessibility

4. Validate Videos with PEAT

An animated segment of a film promoting the 2012 London Olympics was blamed for triggering seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. The charity Epilepsy Action received telephone calls from people who had seizures after watching the film on television and online. In response, it was reported that London 2012 Olympic Committee removed the offending segment from its website. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

If your videos have red flashes, it is advised to use PEAT (Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool) to validate the videos to identify the seizures risk.

5. High Quality/High Definition Videos

The quality of the videos is reduced when viewed in full screen mode or zoomed-in, making it difficult for user to view the videos; especially users with low vision. To avoid degraded video quality and better viewing, it is advised to provide high quality videos.

6. Explicitly mention if there is ‘No Sound’

Most of users think that Captions/Transcript scripts are not needed for videos with no sound but that is an incorrect perception. Providing Caption or Transcription Script for such videos is also as important as compared to videos with audio. For example, if not informed about ‘No Sound’, a user with aural disabilities might think that supported transcript is not provided and may feel discomfort about it. In such cases, mentioning it explicitly can help user in a great way as he can concentrate totally on the video without having to look elsewhere for the transcript.

7. Keep the Content Simple

Keep the content of the video simple, if possible. Using small sentences/dialogs and simple words can make the content more accessible for users with cognitive disabilities. Provide alternative text for complex or third parties videos where content can’t be controlled as webmaster.

Why Sign Language translation can be avoided?

Although, WCAG 2.0 suggests using Sign Language Translation; I personally feel that using Sign Language Translation is not a mandate and can be avoided for various reasons listed below:

  • The sign language could differ in different geographical locations
  • The approach is costlier than any other approach such as providing Transcription Script or Captions.
  • Limited user base – Sign Language Translation would be useful only for single class of users suffering with aural disabilities.

These ideas are based on my understanding with the subject. Let me know if you think otherwise.

Thanks to Jyothi Rangaiah for reviewing this article coming back with her valuable feedback.

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Jyothi R said...

Thank you Mohit for introducing me to a whole new way of observing from the prespective of a differently abled.
Your thinking and observation skills are worthy of a mention. It shows you care for your customers in ways that must not be ignored. Congratulations for receiving the value award :)

Mohit said...

Thank you Jyothi for the kind words; it's unusual but valuable feedback. It's learning phase and I still need to learn a lot; for example, the way you write.

Unknown said...

Good article, but there are comments I would like to add:

- "Single class of users suffering with aural disabilities." We don't like the words "suffering" - we do not suffer from our disabilities, but from physical and attitudinal barriers of society.

- Videos need to be BOTH captioned and transcripts for various reasons including but not limited to: slow mobile bandwidths to watch a video, issues with video controls, some people wanting to skim text than to listen to audio, etc.

- Accessible media players also have to include captioning support. For example, Vimeo does not have it despite of complaints of many people (both hearing and deaf) for 5 years about the need for it.

- Closed captions are better for online not just because it's easier to turn them on/off, but also because it improves searchability. However, open captioning is required for public events like movies in theaters, conferences, etc. Deaf people do not want to carry or use extra equipments to enable captions at public events.

As someone with profound hearing loss using captioning, I also advocate for it and have information about it on my website -

BTW, CAPTCHAs are not very accessible or user-friendly.

Mohit said...

Thanks for sharing the important information. It was a great learning and very crucial feedback for me.

Apologies for my selection of words; I will be more careful from next time.

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