Making Sure Videos are Compliant with Accessibility Standards

Here is an overview of what you need to know to ensure your videos are fully accessible.

The prevalence of video today brings with it a responsibility to ensure your content can be consumed by as many people as possible -- no matter what accommodations they may need.

The prevalence of video today brings with it a responsibility to ensure your content can be consumed by as many people as possible -- no matter what accommodations they may need.

The broad push for accessible digital content has made it much clearer as to how content creators and publishers can ensure their videos are enjoyed by prospects and customers with a range of visual and auditory impairments.

Which standards should you follow for video accessibility?

Some organizations have set their own standards for web content accessibility, based on proprietary data or information about their ideal customers and regulatory environment. If your organization doesn’t have these guidelines in place, it’s best to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These standards are created by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). In December of 2008, version 2.0 of the guidelines was released.

There are three levels of conformance to the WCAG guidelines: A, AA, and AAA. Most organizations, including the federal government, require their content to meet AA standards at minimum.

Each level has a slightly different set of requirements. To broadly summarize:  

A - This is the minimum conformance level and includes basic web accessibility features. This level includes features like providing text alternatives to video and audio content, allowing users to control playback, and providing clear and helpful page titles.

AA - This level of conformance addresses most of the common accessibility barriers faced by people who need accommodation for online videos. It includes captions for video, a pre-recorded audio description of all video and audio content, a minimal contrast ratio of 4.5:1, and the ability to resize text up to 200% without any impact on functionality or meaning.

AAA - The highest level of WCAG conformance addresses almost every possible accessibility concern. This level includes live captioning and sign language interpretation, allowing all video functions to be controlled via keyboard, and mechanisms to help users understand the pronunciation of certain words where the meaning is open to interpretation without knowing the pronunciation. It is considered very difficult or impossible for a typical organization to meet every standard in AAA on every piece of content.  

While the WCAG guidelines are the main driver of accessibility standards, it’s also wise to look into standards set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the FCC’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and any applicable county or state laws related to video accessibility. Typical organizations will be fine adopting WCAG guidelines, but due diligence will help ensure your company’s video content meets any special requirements.

Managing the cost of compliance 
Knowing the standards is only half the battle when it comes to accessibility: You also have to develop production techniques that make it easier and lower cost to comply with those standards. After many years of producing video for some of the biggest brands in the world, Invodo has adopted the following best practices for accessible video:

  • Use a checklist. With all the moving parts involved in video production and editing, it can feel overwhelming to try to remember each element of WCAG guidelines. A checklist is an easy answer to this problem. Our partners at 3Play Media recently published an excellent one on their blog; it’s best to create your own list with guidelines specific to your company’s individual needs.
  • Build accessibility costs into production budgets. If you already have experience making videos accessible, you probably have an idea of the additional requirements in time, manpower, technology, etc. Whenever possible, include these steps and costs while creating your production plan and budget.
  • Consider voice-overs (for AA/AAA compliance). If you’ve decided that you want to adhere to WCAG AA or AAA standards, your videos may require an “audio description” for the visually impaired. This can be a costly exercise. However, if your video already calls for the use of voice-over to tell your story, then you might be able to develop a VO script that serves dual purposes -- thereby eliminating the need to produce a secondary audio track or video edit.   
  • Pick the right video player. Some video players and publishing platforms include more accessibility features than others. These capabilities can often reduce the cost or eliminate the need to produce derivative versions or assets. Common examples include: automated generation of caption files, support for alternate audio tracks (for audio descriptions), ability to view transcript, etc.

Just like the push to make retail stores accessible with wheelchair ramps and automatic doors, the effort to make digital content more accessible through WCAG guidelines is becoming more widespread. Adopting these guidelines will not only help your organization comply with regulatory obligations, it can lead to more business by expanding the market you serve.

Justin Vallejo