Accessible Video: What Does That Mean?

  • 3 Min Read

When I was studying at university, I once found myself talking with another student about the kinds of movies we liked – especially interesting, considering this person was severely hearing impaired, and I am blind. This contrast stuck with me, and has since made me look at videos from a whole new perspective.

We know that to make a video accessible for people with hearing loss, it requires a means of turning audio content into something that’s visually consumable – such as captions, or transcripts. Even the sound effects have a place in the captions – the sound of a knock at the door, or the music taking on an ominous tone, or even an indication of who is speaking can give the audience clues about their surroundings and what’s to come.

Captions have many benefits. For one, they can help with literacy – for kids, people learning English as a second language, or just those who benefit from experiencing the content in a different modality. They’re also helpful when the person speaking is hard to understand or the audio quality is poor. On top of that: when you caption a video, you suddenly make all that content available to search engines!

That covers audio, but what can be done to make a video’s visual content accessible to people who can’t see it? That depends on how much information is being transmitted visually. Some videos convey a tremendous amount with their dialogue, but others are full of action and don’t have much time to explain what’s going on! These videos benefit the most from described video. Video descriptions are also helpful in cases where valuable information is being conveyed visually: audio descriptions of the content are inserted in a way that doesn’t interfere with the dialog, but explains what is happening. Other videos use information scrolling across the bottom of the screen to help convey the overall message.

Some videos designed for educational purposes display statistics about the topic at hand as well as other information that the maker of the video couldn’t cram into the audio because of time constraints. People who can’t see miss out on that whole track of information, and sometimes it is not readily apparent to them that they’re missing out! This would happen to me at school, and sometimes, I would only find out when I found myself face-to-face with a befuddling exam question!

Video description is an approach with definite side benefits, but they aren’t as numerous or easy to find as the advantages of captioning. People who aren’t as familiar with English may find the descriptions of the action helpful, since they’re usually written in a more proper form of English than some of the potentially slang-peppered dialogue. Some events also occur so quickly that having them described can provide additional clarification about what’s happening.

To test whether all the important information is provided audibly as well as visually, imagine if the audio track of the video was going to be put on a radio show. Would the audience get the whole message? Or would vital chunks be missing? If so, you might wish to inquire if the video has been described. Some DVDs already come with a descriptive video version. To help students with a visual impairment, a supplemental transcript could be provided containing details of what’s happening onscreen – complete with indicators of when information was displayed so that a user who couldn’t see the scrolling text will receive it in context.

Videos can be a terrific medium for driving your point home, as long as we take the time to ensure they’ll drive that point home for everyone – including those with impairments that might make audio or visual information difficult to process. If you make your own videos, caption them! There are lots of ways to do it, depending on the format in which your video is composed.

When using Desire2Learn Capture, you can either have your captions done by CaptionSync or insert your own SRT files. If you are using a video produced by someone else that isn’t captioned, just provide a transcript. Finally, if there is visual information being conveyed throughout your video, look into described video. If that information is only a few text snippets, provide a transcript so individuals with visual impairments will get the same information.

Visit the tools section of NCAM to find examples of captioned and described media as well as links to some captioning tools. This is by no means the definitive list – but I thought it might provide some interesting reading, and help you make videos more accessible, exciting, and valuable for everyone.

Additionally, you can visit Desire2Learn’s website to learn more about how we emphasize design standards, commit to open reporting, and work directly with clients to make accessibility a priority in everything we do!