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07 June 2019

How to create accessible videos for your website

It is no secret that videos grab attention more than words. Despite being able to turn a phrase like nobody else, Shakespeare would still have struggled to compete with a clearly constructed how-to video. People enjoy learning from and sharing videos, and this is no understatement. Simply Measured looked at Facebook’s top 10 brand pages in 2012 and found that videos generated 1200% more shares than links and text posts combined.

For nonprofits and businesses alike, using video and other forms of multimedia can be key to growing awareness and a user base, educating users, and being an effective branding tool.

Because video and multimedia are so powerful, it is important to get the most from these tools by making them accessible to as many people as possible. For nonprofits dealing with diverse audiences or working with the support of the government, ADA compliant videos and accessible videos may not only be a good idea but actually required by law. Check out a snapshot of how U.S. law affects web accessibility here.  

Incorporating video accessibility into your website is simple, but can have dramatic results, with videos that include captions shown to increase the number of users watching a video to the end by up to 25%.

While web accessibility can sometimes seem like a daunting process, especially when businesses and nonprofits are dealing with legacy issues, creating accessible videos comes down to only a handful of easy processes that can often be made easier with affordable software solutions.

illustrated browser with 8 tabs with different types of web pages

5 ways to create accessible videos and multimedia

1. Transcripts and Captions

Transcripts and/or captions are a great first step in the improvement of video accessibility on your websites. They are also one of the most fundamental aspects of this process.

Transcripts allow screen readers to bypass a video for those with a sight impairment (whether permanent or just temporary) and allow for easy consumption of your content.

Captions are different from subtitles. You may want to create captions in a number of languages, especially if you run a nonprofit that has a number of specific language groups as core users, but remember that captions include as much as possible in relation to what is happening with the video’s audio. If nobody is talking but there is music playing, captions relay this to the user, enhancing their experience and potentially communicating pivotal information.

You can either create transcripts and captions manually with free tools like Closed Caption Creator, through volunteers or freelancers, or through automatic transcription tools. Remember that these tools are still in development, and often require manual oversight.

Important: captions and transcripts are important not only for accessibility, but are pivotal to your Google search rankings. Articles online usually have headings, image alt text, and body text that a search engine processes, but a video can sometimes lack this identifying information. A transcript tells search engines like Google what content the video represents and whether it reflects the purpose of that specific webpage.

Ever watched Netflix with the subtitles and found you engaged more with the movie?

Back in 2009, PLYmedia studied user habits as they related to subtitles and found that where subtitles were used in videos, the number of people who watched the video until completion increased by 80%. Having users stay on your site for longer helps search engines identify high-valuehigh value webpages and push these further up in their rankings.

2. Responsive multimedia and videos

Responsive web design is nothing new, but the release of the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) has included a number of new guidelines that relate to video accessibility. Responsive design is one of these new guidelines.

Videos and multimedia need to respond to the responsive design of an entire website so that there is no chance that a video flows over towards an unseen part of the website and requires a user to scroll horizontally to view any hidden aspects of the video window.

This is an easy accessibility requirement to adhere to, with responsive design being second nature to most developers and website management platforms. The most important thing is that you know it exists and can easily check that everything works!

3. Audio descriptions

Audio descriptions essentially accompany videos that might be more visual (lacking in dialogue) or are heavily text-based (such as corporate presentations) to help those with accessibility issues to easily and quickly comprehend the video in real-time. While audio descriptions are not always necessary but can be vital for users with hearing and/or sight impairments. Beyond those with permanent impairments, accessibility inclusions like audio descriptions can benefit those with temporary impairments (injuries) or those using your content differently to the norm (those who are multitasking or temporarily shelving your browser window behind others).

4. Manual video accessibility

Avoid using video players that automatically play videos or multimedia. This can disorient certain users, especially those with sight impairments or those who require the use of a screen reader. Have you ever started to play a video and realized there is another advertisement playing in some hidden part of the website or some unknown browser window? We all know how annoying this is. Imagine what it is like for those using a screen reader to have two potentially conflicting audio streams hitting them at once.

Important: if your video player allows for keyboard shortcuts, why not clearly state what these are below the video to help users easily understand how to access your content?

5. Avoid overstimulation

GIF multimedia is a popular form of communication, enriching how we communicate certain emotions and helping to keep users engaged with content through visual cues and markers.

It is important and easy to remember to avoid multimedia and GIF content that can overstimulate users. Simply avoid including multimedia that flashes more than three images in a second, as this can cause epileptic fits. Also remember to alt text descriptions to your short-form multimedia, as this helps not only with your accessibility but search rankings.

In Conclusion

The release of WCAG 2.1 has made it easier for businesses, governments, and nonprofits to build accessible websites. The best thing about it is that if you follow its guidelines, you remain compliant with the original WCAG 2.0 guidelines while also setting yourself up for the future of website accessibility. Video accessibility is just a simple part of reaching as many people as possible with your content, and doing so with a form of communication that people both enjoy and prefer.

Douglas R.

Doug Ross headshot

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Douglas is a copywriter and writer, working in UX Writing and longform tech writing. He has a strong interest in the relationship between tech and society and how we relate to and interact with digital tech’s ongoing evolution.