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Understanding WCAG Guidelines for Video Accessibility

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (also known as WCAG) refer to an international gold standard for web accessibility. The purpose of WCAG guidelines is to provide a set of internationally accepted standards that aim to make web content on all personal devices more accessible and usable to all internet users, including users with physical, sensory, cognitive, and/or other disabilities.

This is a comprehensive overview of the most relevant WCAG guidelines for video content and explains how adhering to these guidelines improves the overall accessibility of websites.

What Are WCAG Principles?

WCAG guidelines include four major principles of web accessibility that every website should apply as much as possible. In more practical terms, this means that web content should be:

  • perceivable - meaning that all website visitors, including visitors with vision and hearing impairments, should be able to accurately see and read the content.

  • operable - meaning that websites should be responsive and feature an interface that is easy to navigate for all users, including users who rely on a keyboard rather than a mouse to navigate the website content.

  • understandable - meaning that website content should feature language that is clear, easy to interpret, and be understood by all users.

  • robust - meaning that web content should be compatible with assistive technology tools that are used by some users with disabilities.

WCAG 2.0 Level AA (where A is the most elementary and AAA the most advanced level) is currently the conformance level most typically referenced in global accessibility rules and regulations.

What Are WCAG Guidelines for Video Content?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) video guidelines provide comprehensive recommendations to ensure that online videos are perceivable, operable, and understandable for users with diverse abilities. To apply WCAG guidelines, you should work toward addressing the following components:

  1. Understand the needs of people with disabilities
  2. Plan video content
  3. Provide audio descriptions for video content
  4. Provide captions or subtitles for video content
  5. Provide transcripts for video content
  6. Ensure sufficient colour contrasts in video content
  7. Use a media player that supports accessibility

1. Understand the Needs of People with Disabilities

To understand the need for video accessibility, it’s useful to first understand how people with disabilities experience video content.

For example, people who are deaf rely on captions, subtitles, transcripts, or sign language to get the audio information from a video. Some people who are hard of hearing like to listen to the audio and then use captions to understand what they can’t hear adequately.

Some people might like access to captions, audio descriptions, and transcripts simultaneously. The point is that every viewer has different needs and preferences that should be considered when creating video content, especially in corporate and other business settings.

However, it’s critical to note that accessible video content is helpful for everyone, including people without disabilities in certain circumstances. For example, some users might need captions in loud environments or quiet ones where they can’t turn on sound. They can also be invaluable to people learning to read or learning a new language.

What’s more, accessible video content can help increase market reach for a business, increase website traffic, improve customer satisfaction and user experience for people with or without disabilities, as well as contribute to better indexing by search engines.

2. Plan Video Content

The best way to make your video content accessible is to address accessibility considerations throughout pre-production, production, and post-production. That means that those who are tasked with video content creation within a company should consider the best ways to make the content accessible while you’re planning, budgeting, scripting, recording, producing, and editing it.

That may include:

  • creating high-quality recording setup
  • using low background audio (such as quieter background music)
  • using clear language and speaking clearly and slowly
  • avoiding using flashing imagery that may cause seizures
  • making overlay text readable
  • planning and budgeting for transcripts, audio descriptions, and/or sign language ahead of time, and so forth.

3. Providing Audio Descriptions for Video Content

Audio description is intended to provide visual information for people who are blind or have visual impairments so that they can understand the content of the video. However, it’s important to differentiate between the information necessary to understand the video and that which isn’t.

For example, if it’s just a video of a person talking, a description may not be necessary. However, suppose there’s information in the video - like actions, setting, and scene changes - that is unclear from dialogue or sound effects alone. In that case, it’s necessary to clarify it in an audio description that can fit in the spaces between dialogue.

That can be a challenge in its own right because those spaces may be pretty short (often only a few seconds), necessitating the inclusion of only the most relevant pieces of descriptive information.

Creating audio descriptions consists of writing out the descriptions, adding time stamps in spaces where they can fit in the file format used by the media player (most often VTT), recording it, and finally, creating a caption file of the description. Note that WCAG video guidelines require an audio description for pre-recorded video content, though not for live video content.

4. Provide Captions or Subtitles for Video Content

Captions or subtitles provide a synchronised text version of the speech and non-speech audio information required to understand the video content. Captions are not only valuable for those who are deaf or hard of hearing but also for those who can’t hear or listen to the audio due to environmental factors, as well as those who process written information better than audio.

According to WCAG guidelines, captions are required to provide audio information to people who are deaf or hard of hearing for pre-recorded and live video content. The difference between captions and subtitles is that captions refer to text in the same language as the spoken audio, while subtitles refer to the text of the spoken audio translated into another language.

You can minimise the expenses required for creating captions or subtitles by using Subly, which can automatically add highly accurate subtitles or captions to your video in over 30 languages and dialects, as well as 99%-accurate captions in English.

5. Provide Transcripts for Video Content

Transcripts are text versions of speech and non-speech audio information necessary to understand a video's content. To create a transcript, you will first have to get a text version of the audio, format it, and then put it online where it can be easily found by the users watching the video, for example, in the video description section. Note that according to WCAG video guidelines, transcripts for pre-recorded video content are only required for AAA conformance level, and transcripts for live video content are not required.

To save the hours required to create a transcript, you can use Subly to create transcription through automatic speech recognition that will transcribe your audio content into text, subtitles, SRT, or VTT files in a matter of minutes.

6. Ensure Sufficient Colour Contrasts in Video Content

Having a sufficient colour contrast between the text and the background in your video content will ensure that people with low vision, colour blindness, or other vision impairments can easily read the important information in your video content, such as captions or subtitles.

WCAG guidelines require a minimum 4.5:1 contrast ratio between text and/or images and the background or a minimum of 3:1 if you’re using large text (18 pt or more) or bold text (over 14 pt) in your video content.  

Subly can also help you style and edit your captions to improve colour contrasts and ensure that people with colour blindness have no difficulty seeing and reading them against the background.

7. Use Media Player That Supports Accessibility

Most default media players that come with modern browsers feature limited functionality to support accessibility. In order to be fully accessible, media players should include accurate captions or subtitles, provide keyboard support, make the keyboard focus indicator visible, and have sufficient contrast between colours for text, controls, and backgrounds.

For example, YouTube does offer an option to auto generate captions. However, those captions are often incorrect and insufficient to meet user needs or accessibility requirements, according to WCAG video guidelines.

One option to remedy that is to choose an existing player explicitly developed for accessibility, and another is to use a service like Subly to ensure that your video content contains accurate and complete captions or subtitles.

Finally, it’s important to remember that adhering to WCAG guidelines not only improves the overall accessibility of websites, it also enhances the user experience for all users, leading to higher customer satisfaction.  

In addition, search engines use captions and transcripts to index video content more effectively, which means those features help improve a website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and help it reach a much wider audience.

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