Accessibility in Video Production

LavaCon Session Summary: UI & UX Design Track

Presenter: Ken Circeo, Microsoft

SessionSummary-accessibilityvideoUntil LavaCon 2013, I had heard practically nothing about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, the complaint system that went into effect on October 8, 2013, and the impacts on the technical communication field. Ken Circeo’s session on accessibility changed that for me.

I was interested in attending a variety of sessions at LavaCon, and as a small business owner, I had been tossing around the idea of creating instructional videos and posting them to my website. I zeroed on this session thinking I’d get some good reminders of what accessibility guidelines I should follow. Fortunately, Ken Circeo, a Senior Content Publisher with Microsoft and 20-year industry writer, provided much more than guidelines into a wide range of issues that have real implications for our field.

Accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have or good-to-do option if you have the time. In addition to addressing the legal implications, technical communicators should, by nature, consider all of their audience’s needs in developing products and information. Ken confirmed that the need for universal design applies to services (websites and interactive training), products (videos and apps), and environments (user interfaces and players). The penalties for non-compliance can include financial, behavioral, and consumer ramifications.

Laws from the 1980s and 1990s helped improve accessibility to buildings (ramps), but content and web accessibility lagged until the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 “…make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities….” (Abstract from WCAG 2.0, 11 Dec 2008)

More than 1.4 billion people worldwide have some sort of issue with vision, mobility, speech, cognition, and hearing. These issues can be broken down further:

  • Vision: Colorblindness, low vision, slight vision, blindness
  • Mobility: Arthritis, quadriplegia, spinal cord injury
  • Speech: Impediment, inability to speak
  • Cognition: Dyslexia, seizure, learning disability, autism
  • Hearing: Hearing loss, deafness

Ken fleshed out these statistics, noting that there are 285 million people worldwide and 21 million in the U.S with a visual impairment, 72 million people worldwide and 42 million in the U.S. with a hearing impairment. Consider that these numbers can be 7%-14% of your potential audience, and you reach the inevitable conclusion that many people in the U.S. alone miss out on content if the proper accommodations were not made.

The need for accessibility goes beyond the simple elements, such as bad video production itself (Ken mentioned that people will often forgive bad video if the audio is sharp). The new law sets accessibility requirements for the video player as well as the video. The player must meet or exceed the CVAA requirements. To be compliant, a player must include the following features:

  • High contrast colors:  When viewers switch devices into high contrast mode, the player elements must remain visible and discernible even with the change in colors.
  • Closed captioning: any content identified as how-to, help, communications, or highly technical is required to have single-layer closed captioning. Ken recommends that organizations include the closed captioning in all video content, not just videos of an instructional nature. An advanced technique is to use multi-layer closed captioning, which adds timing to the text displays.
  • Screen reader support: you can create descriptive alt text and hotkeys. To improve the richness of the content delivered this way, you can also add additional layers of content that provide more context to the audience
  • Audio playback: the viewer needs to be able to select between multiple audio tracks. A best practice is to include more context in a track for viewers with low vision.

Ken illustrated the audio playback requirement with an example showing the difference between a standard narration of a screen, which might include basic information only, and a narration for those with low vision, which provided additional context. Rather than limited the audio to “…select Default corporate picture,” the additional context includes, “…select the Default corporate picture radio button, second from the top on the right side of the screen.” He also suggested that the audio playback should include more information by way of text on video screens when no one is speaking (as a way to describe the actions and story).

Before he concluded his presentation, Ken warned the audience about a major factor regarding the new CVAA—this law applies to the organization’s legacy content, not just content created going forward from the effective date. Just finding out about this point alone made the session crucial, and combined with the details, examples and statistics, it provided to be a valuable and eye-opening presentation.

One of Ken’s final slides contained a good summary statement and a tweetable moment: If you can make a video, you can make an ACCESSIBLE video.

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