Let’s Talk About Accessible Video ….
If you know me, you probably know that I have pretty terrible vision (falling in around -8.5 in each eye). A few years ago I was lucky enough to run out of contact lenses and break my glasses … at the same time. For the first time in thirty years, I truly gained perspective into what it is like to live with a disability. I couldn’t drive my car, reheat leftover pizza or find my way around the house. Not to mention my career … my passion … looking through the lens of a video camera became near-impossible. Thankfully my new glasses arrived within a few days and life went back to normal.
The reality though is that many Canadians don’t have the same luck as I do. There is no ‘back to normal’ – or rather, living with an impairment is their version of normal life. It is a battle that they must face every single moment of every single day. That is why I wanted to take some time out of my day to talk about accessible content from my perspective as a filmmaker, and share some tips on how to make your videos more accessible (without pushing scope or deadline); but before that … let’s take a look at what accessible video is and who benefits from it!
What is Accessible Video?
Accessible video content is video that follows best practices and incorporates accessible features to allow everyone to enjoy your content regardless of their abilities. Accessible video encompasses all touchpoints of the viewing experience; from the video itself to the way in which the video is delivered to your audience.
Who is it for?
By definition, accessible video is created to assist those with disabilities and impairments. Our traditional view of accessible video mostly addresses two specific impairments … vision and hearing; yet the way we interact with video has rapidly changed (360, AR, VR, mobile, etc.) and the experience is no longer just about watching and listening. Watching video now means navigating and searching web pages, viewing content on tiny mobile devices or using physical touch inputs to interact with content. As such, we must expand our definition of accessible video beyond sight and sound to the full range of disabilities and impairments.
For example, those with cognitive disabilities that cannot retain information may feel overwhelmed with the use of an auto-play feature, or someone with a mobility impairment may not be able to touch and interact with 360 video content.
Accessible video is for everybody else as well. As our mobile devices shift from being our ‘second screen’ to our ‘first’ and on-the-go content consumption becomes the norm, it is no wonder that over 75% of all Facebook videos are watched without audio and videos that includes captions will double the number of people (from 40% to 80%) who watch your video all the way to the end. This is a huge opportunity for marketers to capitalize on as the need for accessible content rises.
How do we do it?
Plan for Accessibility from the Start:
As the age old saying goes, “It is much easier to build a house than it is to renovate one” – and the same goes for accessible video content. It is much easier to plan for accessibility from the get-go than to treat it as an afterthought. Great accessible content takes a lot of effort and planning to get it right. This means building a line item into your marketing brief or creative treatment and ensuring all stakeholders are thinking about ways to make your content more accessible; this includes marketing and branding, the creative team, your video production crew, web developers and any external vendors that you bring on to the project. You’ll save yourself a whole bunch of time, money, and effort if you plan for it from the start!
Write a Transcript:
In the context of film, a transcript is a written copy of the dialogue and important visual or auditory information in your video. For example, dialogue between two characters, the description of a car’s interior or the smirk on an actor’s face. Think of it like a movie script! Your video should never leave home without this transcript. Some common places you can post your transcript is in your Youtube description, on the blog post or page your video content is embedded or incorporated into your website’s video player.
There used to be a time where transcription was an expensive process, but there are a ton of great online services such as Fiverr.com where can get you a 2-3 minute video transcript for as little as $5 US (or $3,0000 CDN after conversion lol).
Turn that Transcript into Captions:
Captions (or subtitles) are a text version of the speech in your video and include important audio cues that help deaf or hard of hearing users read what is being heard on-screen. With services such as Youtube championing accessibility, creating captions and subtitles are now as simple as making some modifications to your transcript, uploading to the Youtube caption editor, selecting the ‘auto-sync’ feature and letting Google do all of the heavy lifting! Even more awesome? You can download a copy of the final caption file so that it can be repurposed on other video players as well. Score!!
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to create subtitles and captions using Youtube.
Get Descriptive With Your Audio:
Descriptive audio is a spoken audio track that is played along with the video and it lets blind and vision-impaired users know what’s happening on the screen. It often describes important visual information such as setting, facial expressions and key actions that are relevant to the narrative, but not conveyed through dialogue. For example:
This process typically means you will have to script and record a secondary audio track for your video and export/upload a ‘descriptive audio version’ version of your video for web … but fear not because may web players are starting to support multiple audio tracks, making the process much easier than before.
If you don’t have the resources to create a descriptive audio track or multiple versions of your video, you can also write accessibility directly into the script. By simply adding a few more descriptive words into your dialogue, you can make content more accessible for all viewers. For example, you could turn the line “Bob you’re a hot mess, get your act together!” into “Bob, your hair is a mess, there’s lettuce in your teeth and your shirt is missing a button. Get your act together!”
Frame it up!
As a director, I love a ton of quick cuts, dramatic lighting, fast paced shots and innovative angles; but at the end of the day this not only makes it harder for people with impairments to understand the main action in the video, but viewers watching on small screens and mobile devices are also missing out on what is going on. Next time you hit record – get lazy! Plan for less camera movement, fewer cuts and head-on angles. Also be sure to light your scene so that there is a clear indication of where the viewer’s eye should be focused at all times.
Take the ‘Motion’ out of Motion Graphics:
When it comes to motion graphics, simple is always best. Here are a few steps to making your motion graphics easier to read on-screen!
· Keep complex animation to a minimum
· Use less images/icons and make them larger
· Make sure your fonts are large and easy-to-read
· Disable motion blur effects
· Incorporate high-contrast colours to make text and images more visible
· Increase the length of time text and images are on-screen
See for yourself! Squint your eyes and watch the five second motion graphic example below. Which one is easier for you to read on first pass?
Your Video Player Counts Too!
Last but not least, accessibility isn’t just about the content– but also the manner in which you deliver it to your audience. When possible, make sure that your website’s video player can be controlled with the use of assistive devices and software, supports the use of keyboard shortcuts, can easily adjust the screen size, display captions, switch between standard and descriptive audio tracks and can embed your transcript underneath the video panel.
So those are my seven tips on making your video content more accessible for everyone! It’s really great to see that we are living in an era where content is becoming more accessible and large organizations and government are championing the cause. It is our duty as filmmakers, marketers and creatives to put our heads together and think of creative new ways to make our content accessible to every single person on this space rock we call Earth. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!
If you have any other tips or have questions about accessible content, drop me a line below. I check the comments regularly and love to answer questions. Ciao for now!
James Ridout | Evolve Films
This article was largely inspired by several events held by The Canadian Marketing Association. I highly suggest you visit CMAaccessibility.ca for more great insight and resources on accessibility!