Lights! Camera! Caption: A Beginner's Guide to Developing Accessible Video Experiences

Published September 16, 2020

Much like websites and digital files, videos have accessibility practices that should be followed to meet certain standards, and to increase overall viewership. Audio description, synchronized captioning, and transcripts are just a few of the practices used to ensure accessible videos for all.

Why video accessibility is important

From a legal standpoint, laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act set guidelines that determine if a video is accessible or not. Violations of these laws or similar laws may result in legal action against the producer of the video.

Creating accessible videos can be extremely beneficial from a financial perspective. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 15%, or roughly one billion people worldwide live with some form of a disability. Creating videos that are inaccessible makes it impossible for persons with disabilities to view and interact with that content. Which means that a business with inaccessible content will miss out on their commerce, attention and loyalty.

As will be demonstrated later in this article, many accessible features quickly become adopted and utilized by the wider population. An example of this phenomena is the curb cut. Curb cuts were initially implemented to assist individuals in wheelchairs transitioning from a sidewalk to the street, however anyone pushing a stroller or cart of groceries can attest to how beneficial they can be.

Audio description

Audio descriptions (AD) are narrations that describe visual content onscreen. Often videos feature content that either isn’t spoken aloud, or readily apparent via context clues in the original recording. Audio descriptions can improve the experience of audio-first learners; people with visual impairments; and people with learning disabilities.

Consider following these steps to create efficient audio descriptions:

  1. Take note of any gaps in audio and strictly visual content depicted onscreen.
  2. Create a script featuring concise explanations of the visual content.
  3. Record someone reading the script in a clear, and neutral voice.
  4. Add the narration recording to the video file as a new track. Adjusting additional audio tracks in the file may be recommended.

It’s important to be mindful that the narration does not interfere too much with the video’s native dialogue or audio content. Too much interference may lead to greater confusion on the viewer’s part.

Synchronized captions

Synchronized captions are onscreen lines of text that communicate dialogue and other pertinent audible information within the video. Synchronized captions are extremely helpful for individuals who are deaf, individuals with attention deficits, or people who learn best through reading.

There are many automated captioning services available including: Kaltura and Youtube’s captioning functions. Make sure to double-check automated captions for any errors or confusing language. Many automated services give developers the option to manually create their captions or correct any mistakes.

Many times the terms captions and subtitles are used interchangeably. Though they are both very beneficial for a large number of viewers, it’s important to distinguish between the two. Subtitle’s are primarily used by individuals who do not know the language spoken in the video, therefore only the video dialogue and narrations are depicted onscreen. Captions on the other hand present all spoken content, and other audible content that provides greater context to the video.


A transcript is a text-based document that details everything said in the video. Additionally, a descriptive transcript features all the video dialogue, and descriptions to add greater context. Transcripts may be used by individuals who are deaf; individuals who are blind; and individuals with learning disabilities. Additionally, transcripts are one of the most important accessibility features for individuals who are deaf and blind. People who are deaf and blind can read transcripts on a braille display connected to a computer running certain assistive technology which converts the transcript to digital Braille.

Many times, video developers will work with third-party vendors to create their transcripts. In some instances, captions can provide much of the text that goes into a transcript. Developers need to have appropriate software on hand in order to convert between file types, however.

Further considerations

When developing accessible videos, consider the following to further increase accessibility:

  • Video audio: Sometimes the conflicting sounds of conversations, background music, or other audio within the video could be distracting to certain viewers.
  • Flashing content: Consider avoiding flashing content or other stimuli that may trigger seizures or distractions.
  • Avoid nested video players: Many embedded video players are not compatible with assistive software. Consider linking videos directly to hosting sites such as Youtube or Vimeo. Many third-party hosting sites are specifically optimized for assistive technology.
  • Color Contrast: When creating videos consider the color contrast, or difference in luminosities of different colors onscreen. Colors or text that are too close together or otherwise indistinguishable may negatively impact your viewers experience.

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