Accessible video is for everyone. Making accessible video means you’re considering how everybody can consume and interact with your content. It is an invitation to reach all sectors of society, helping people to feel connected, represented and included.
Accessibility should not be an afterthought and works best when it is a consideration from the start. So how do you plan a video project to ensure films are as accessible as possible?
Here are some tips to make sure your videos are accessible and inclusive.
[ALT TEXT: A person sat at a desk. They are wearing headphones and have their phone in their hands while watching a laptop screen. Credit: Disability:IN.]
Who does this help?
The ability to access video can vary depending on your situation and everyone will benefit from video that is optimised for accessibility.
Accessibility is an essential consideration for people with disabilities that are:
Vision-based (low vision, blindness, colour blindness)
Audible-based (deafness, hard of hearing)
Cognitive or neurological disabilities (learning disabilities, memory impairment, multiple sclerosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, seizure disorder)
Physical and motor disabilities (arthritis, repetitive stress injury, amputation, muscular dystrophy, reduced dexterity)
There are many reasons why a user may struggle to view or understand video content. ‘Situational’ impairment includes brightness and contrast factors (mobile models), slow internet connections and loud-busy environments.
Ultimately, we are also planning for ourselves, as our lives change in unexpected ways along with our level of need for accessibility.
Whenever you’re writing video scripts, avoid or explain jargon, abbreviations and acronyms. Avoid idioms: idiomatic expressions such as “raising the bar” can be interpreted literally by some people with cognitive disabilities and can be confusing.
For some audience members it could be worth providing definitions or explanations for implied or potentially ambiguous information such as:
Metaphors or anecdotes
You should take into consideration tone for spoken scripts, assuring you aren’t excluding any audience members. You can make sure your script is clear by using the Hemingway App.
Remember, pop culture isn't universal. Pop culture references can be fun and illustrative for those in the know, but for others they can be alienating and confusing. They may also age poorly, decreasing their accessibility over time.
Be mindful that your choice of words in a script may be excluding some of your audience. Are you making any assumptions about gender, sexual orientation, race or educational level with how you refer to groups of people? Terms like 'guys', 'the common man' and 'manpower' are examples of gendered language
In addition, ableist language like 'insane', 'lame', and 'crazy' is degrading to those with mental and physical disorders.
‘Integrated Description’ is a way writing the script which makes information work for people who can’t see. If you were scripting a training video or instructional video, instead of writing: "Attach this to the green end" you’d write: "Attach the small ring to the green end, which is the larger end."
In training videos or instructional videos, audiences should not have to rely on memory. Instead of saying “previous stage” and “next step,” narrators should say “Moving onto Step 3 now,” to keep users on track in the present. To focus the users’ attention on specific tasks, a video tutorial might be broken up into separate chapters, with progress indicators such as “step 2 of 4”. Lengthy or complex processes should be as simple and brief as possible.
Good accessibility comes from assure the basics are done well, meaning clear visuals and clean audio. Assure that high quality equipment is used to capture any audio and video.
When filming an interview or talking head, make sure that the subject is well lit. Many people use lipreading, even subconsciously.Those hard of hearing learn what the mouth looks like during natural speech, not an exaggerated version. So while enunciating is good, exaggerating is not. Encourage the interviewee to avoid mumbling, covering their mouth and exaggerating lip movements.
If you’re going for a darker shot, try to at least make the mouth area visible for this reason. If you’re not showing the speaker on screen, this is when captions are necessary (see below).
If you want your speech clearly communicated, a front-on angle is always best. Cutting to a side camera / second angle can be fine, especially if there are captions, but if you’re looking to be as accessible as possible, have your camera angled from the front of the subject.
Body language, gestures, and facial expressions can also be very helpful for the hard of hearing. For a potentially nervous interviewee, reassure them that gesturing comes naturally to us as human beings. They don't need to overthink it, just gesture as they would to a friend in genuine conversation.
Plan for the addition of a sign language interpreter when storyboarding and filming. Often sign languages are provided as an overlay in the bottom right corner of videos so plan for the video not to include important information that would be obstructed by a sign language overlay. For example with a film of a person dialling 999 we’d need to think ahead an ensure the buttons ‘999’ aren’t in the bottom right corner of the frame.
When including dynamic graphic design ('motion graphics') in your videos, you should avoid blinking, flickering, or flashing objects. Videos or animation should not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period. Significant flashing on screen has been known to trigger seizures. and so can be problematic for people with epilepsy.
Make sure information being conveyed with colour in your graphics is available in other ways. A good litmus test is to ask yourself 'does this image make sense in greyscale?' If the answer is no, you might be excluding groups of viewers. For instance, for a graph think about using patterns or labels to tell each bar, line or pie segment apart. Don’t rely on colour only — enhance colour with labels, icons, or other visual markers.
Top tip: Adobe Illustrator contains a 'colour blindness simulator' that allows the designer to see what the image will look like for people with different types of colour blindness. If you don't have Illustrator you can use the Coblis Colour Blindness Simulator. In general Adobe advises avoiding combinations of red and green; yellow and bright green; light blue and pink; dark blue and violet, wherever possible.
When including icon graphics in your video, use common symbols that can be easily recognised and are unambiguous, rather than iconography that is too unusual and vague. If using illustrated characters, ensure diversified characters with visible impairments, different body shapes, ages, fashions and hair styles. Avoid feeding negative stereotypes by conflating certain characteristics with certain employment types or level of education.
Where text animates on- and off- screen, this text might be overlain on background imagery. You can use the 'text one background image a11y check' to ensure text is legible when it is overlain on a still or moving image.
Some types of motion on screen can cause problems for people with motion sensitivities. Animations that move an object across a large amount of space are most likely to trigger viewers. While small rotation probably won’t cause trouble, a full-screen wipe transition covering the entire screen likely would. Exaggerated parallax animations, with background objects moving at a different speed than foreground objects, are also highly likely to be triggering. Animation that involves only non-moving properties, like opacity, colour, and blurs, are unlikely to be a problem.
Hearing aid users can listen to videos the following ways:
Through a device that links to the hearing aids e.g. a loop system or a handsfree bluetooth device
Over-ear headphones, but this depends on the type of hearing aids as to whether this is possible or comfortable
Removing hearing aids to use in-ear headphones, and playing media at a louder volume (not always possible, depending on the degree of hearing loss)
Make sure any background music is at least 20 decibels lower than the foreground speech. Speech usually should sit between -6 and -12db, so your music should be somewhere around -30db.
It is also important to regulate your sound levels, so that the viewer doesn’t have to constantly (or at all ideally) alter the volume of their device while watching. It can be uncomfortable if one moment the speech is very quiet, and then music suddenly comes in way too loud.
Also avoid music and sound effects that can be distracting or irritating, such as some high pitches and repeating patterns. Moderating the background music is a huge help for people with hearing disabilities because multiple sources of sound are confusing and distracting.
Audio Description can also be added. Audio description is an additional audio stream that describes important visual content; it narrates what is visually happening on screen whether that’s the text or a description of important visual action (for example, "a person picks up a phone and dials 999"). It should describe body language, expressions and movements. Standard AD is written and recorded so that it fits within the gaps between existing dialogue and important audio elements.
Some videos may not have enough natural gaps in the sound track and require Extended Audio Description. This involves editing the video to pause at certain points to fit the audio description in. Extended AD increases the length of the final video.
Captions and transcriptions can also be useful for people without a disability such as those who are watching the video in noisy environments or those that are in a quiet environment such as a library and those who have English as a second language (ESOL).
Most people use the term ‘subtitles’ to describe captions, but captions differ in that a caption contains not only the words that are said but description of e.g. background music or accompanying sounds.
Whenever anyone is talking, subtitles should display what is said
If music is played, a caption should identify the music
If a character/interviewee reacts to a noise, such as, ‘a van door slams’ ‘a knock at the door’, ‘wind howling’, this should be captioned accordingly
Open Captions are captions that are burnt-on to the final film, whereas Closed Captions are uploaded alongside a video and can be toggled on-and-off, leaving a viewer the option to use them or not. Here are so top tips for writing captions:
Always identify who is speaking each time the speaker changes
Wrap caption information in squared brackets [like this] to distinguish it from dialogue
If characters are speaking from off-screen, caption it as such. For example: Jim: [over the phone] Hello, how are you?
If nothing is happening on-screen which needs subtitles or captions, state that: for example: [No sound], [Silence]
Check that subtitles are on screen long enough for users to read them
Ensure captions are easily legible with accessible font typeface and font size. When selecting a font, The most accessible fonts identified are:
and Times New Roman.
Slab serif fonts including Arvo, Museo Slab, and Rockwell are also considered to be accessible. (You may have heard that sans serif fonts are more accessible for screen reading; however research has not been conclusive and suggests it related more to font familiarity).
Ensure legibility with a high contract background, which can be achieved by putting dark coloured box behind the caption text. We recommend a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. Colour contrast can be checked with the WCAG Colour Contrast Checker. All colour combinations must have brightness-contrast greater than or equal to 125 and colour-contrast greater than or equal to 400.
The ideal, minimal font size for any document is recommended at 16 points for people with a visual impairment. Some fonts appear larger than others at the same point size and no single point size is suitable for everyone. If 16 points is not appropriate, 14 is the best compromise.
Captions should be left-aligned rather than centre aligned, as left-aligned text has better legibility.
In addition to captions it's important to make a full transcript available with your video as another way to access the information. A transcript is a written record of the speech that takes place in an audio or video recording and is:
Useful in scenarios where video won't load due to internet access, or if the user has limited data for watching media
A quicker/more immediate way to see the content: you can scan it for interest and relevance, including if you're a visually-impaired person using a screen reader
Its content can be keyword-searched and the information can be copied out
Where possible you should also look to provide a Descriptive Transcript (also referred to sometimes as a 'Media Alternative Transcript'). A Descriptive Transcript is a text transcript that also includes descriptions of what is displayed visually in the video in addition to the speech. It allows people who are blind or have vision loss to have full access to video content via use of a screen reader.
Remember, some people with neurocognitive differences may prefer to avoid videos, podcasts, or other non-text content. If your options fail to provide text alternatives, users may look elsewhere.
Videos often end with an 'end slate' that contains text, logos and often a Call to Action with a hyperlink, or web address, to for an audience member to follow up with for further information. Be sure to keep your URLs short. This is not just for readability, but useful for screen readers to say the URL without a string of characters like hyphens and slashes.
Finally, make sure that your video player supports captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions so that your video is accessible once distributed.
Co-production of video content is one of the best accessibility and inclusivity practices you can do as an organisation. Holding workshops and focus groups with disabled people with a range of impairments, and including them in discussions with your production company to co-create designs, scripts and visual content provides excellent insight into how different audiences needs can be addressed and how all sectors can feel included and represented.
Faltrego are experts in video accessibility and inclusivity. Get in touch today if you'd like any advice or to chat about accessible and inclusive production: email@example.com