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Creating Accessible Media
Making accessible videos is critical for all organizations. Every person should be able to watch and understand the videos you make.
Providing accessible media isn’t a choice for companies that work with the United States federal government. It’s the law. According to Section 508, all federal agencies (and those that provide them with technological services) are required to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with varying abilities.
The importance and purpose of Section 508 extends beyond federal agencies and the contractors that work with them. Certainly, companies that create government videos need to be aware of 508’s video and multimedia guidelines to follow the law. Beyond legality, every organization should consider using 508’s rules in their internal (and external) videos. For your company to learn and grow, video needs to be easily understood and appreciated by every employee watching.
Videos used and distributed by the government must be 508-compliant. But for organizations that aren’t creating US government videos, 508-compliance still has value. It’s important simply because accessibility is a desirable goal in and of itself:
At the end of the day, the guidelines in Section 508 are an opportunity to empower your workforce and customer-base by making your videos available to everyone.
Section 508 was refreshed last year to address developments in technology. The 2017 revisions provide stronger protection by adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a global set of rules that define how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 now requires agencies to conform to WGAC guidelines because they are more explicit — they have clear, specific success criteria for determining whether every type of content is accessible. Under the refresh, Section 508 requires agencies to conform to the A (minimum), AA (mid-range) WCAG levels with their content.
The revised Section 508, following WCAG guidelines, applies to a wide range of electronic content — websites, documents, blog posts, social media, and others. We’ll focus on how these guidelines apply to one type of content — video.
Making your video 508-compliant under WCAG guidelines depends on the type of video you’re creating:
Both types of video require three main elements in order to be considered accessible:
Learn more about these elements, and other suggestions, below.
Creating accessible videos can be easy if you select the right tools. Here’s a breakdown of how to add supplementary media to fulfill the requirements of 508 video compliance and make your videos accessible to everyone.
Audio in videos doesn’t just accommodate visually-impaired audiences — it makes your video come to life for all viewers with narration, character dialogue, music, and sound effects. You can add all of these things in GoAnimate with built-in music and sound effects, an audio recording feature, and character lip-sync.
GoAnimate videos export as .mp4 files where the audio plays along with the video. To create accessible videos, you need supplemental audio descriptions and closed captions that are meant to be played separately from your video.
Videos should be accompanied by a description of the action happening in your video to make it possible for visually-impaired audiences to understand your content. In many cases, this means making a transcript of the video available. In the case of a more complex video, this means providing an audio description of the visuals. If your video plays with an audio track that fully describes its content, a separate audio description isn’t necessary.
Adding an audio description can be done by uploading a separate audio file to your 508-compliant video player that allows your viewer to choose between the default audio track and the audio description track. If your player doesn’t support this, you can make a separate video and/or audio track available. Here’s an example of how NASA provides additional files with their podcast recordings:
And here are additional examples of audio descriptions provided by w3.org:
Captions turn the audio portion of your video into readable text. This accommodates both visual and hearing impaired audiences by making it possible for the video content to be visually read on-screen, or for a video player to detect the caption file to read the captions aloud.
There are two types of captions:
To make your captions 508-compliant and accessible to both hearing and visually-impaired audiences, you’ll need to close caption your video with a separate text file. This makes it possible for the video to be read visually on-screen with the captions, and for a video player to detect the text file and read the captions aloud. You may have noticed the closed captions in the video at the top of this post. Here’s what they look like (hosted in Wistia). The “CC” in the bottom right corner is where viewers can turn the captions on or off.
There are a few ways to create a closed caption file. At GoAnimate, we pay a third party company (a real person) to transcribe our videos for closed captioning. We upload the provided .srt file to our final videos everywhere we host our content – Wistia, YouTube, and Facebook. Longer videos without a script, like live webinars, can be expensive to transcribe, so we’ll take advantage of YouTube’s free automated transcription feature. We upload our video to YouTube, edit the transcriptions there, and save the .srt file to use in other players.
You can also use a tool like MAGpie or DotSub to transcribe video content yourself. Using DotSub, upload your GoAnimate video file to the site, and follow this tutorial to add captions to your video.
Once you’re finished, you can use the DotSub embed code to add your captioned video anywhere online Or download the .srt file at the end of the DotSub captioning process and include it when uploading your video on other platforms.
Here are additional resources for captioning and transcription vendors.
GoAnimate customers who aren’t required to be 508-compliant can create “open captions” by adding text to the bottom of each scene. These are helpful for hearing-impaired viewers and those watching your video without sound.
Here’s an easy workaround for adding text boxes to create open captions. Add a text box at the bottom of each scene, type your text, and add an enter effect to each line of text in each scene. Expedite your captioning further by copying and pasting the text box to the bottom of each new scene, and edit the text accordingly.
Sometimes captions can’t describe everything happening in a video for hearing-impaired viewers — you can only fit so much text at the bottom of the screen. To provide these audiences with more context, you can create a text description to explain your video information. Your text description should convey everything that happens in your video — narration, actions, characters, sound effects, and others.
A text description is also a potential opportunity for a blog post. If posting externally, it’s great SEO boost too. Using this medium, you can engage all types of viewers by elaborating on your points with details and exploring other aspects of your video’s subject.
It’s best to host your videos in a 508-compliant video player that makes it easy to add captioning and audio description files. Additionally, a compliant player makes it possible to navigate video controls by keyboard, include a sign language track, display navigation with color contrast, adjust caption placement, and customize the display.
Able Player, JW Player, Brightcove, and Kaltura (among others) are all 508-compliant video players. Other video hosting platforms such as Wistia, Vidyard, Vimeo, YouTube, and Facebook offer several accessibility features as well, although they may not be entirely 508-compliant.
Videos, especially educational and training videos, should be open to every single person. By taking steps to follow these guidelines, you’re creating content that can be appreciated and understood by all viewers, regardless of their abilities.
At GoAnimate, we’re working on adding English closed captions to every video (more languages to follow), including transcriptions on help content, and keeping various abilities in mind as we continue to create and improve. If you have other suggestions or requests for making GoAnimate videos, or the GoAnimate video maker, more accessible, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about how to achieve video accessibility from 3Play Media.
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