See My Voice, Hear My Images

Video and Sound Have Rules Too!

If you post video or podcast files to your website, you should consider the following accessibility requirements that most people are not aware of. It does not take special tools or skills for the ‘accessibility police’ to check your web pages to see if you were aware of them. So let us talk about video first.

Video accessibility Issues

If you post a video file, there are several questions that you must answer. I will examine these in no particular order. Just know that you should consider each as a separate issue.

  1. Will the video stream when accessed?

    There are two fundamental ways that a video can play from your website. One is that it must first be fully downloaded before it can begin to play. The second, referred to as streaming, allows the video to begin playing as soon as some has downloaded even while the rest of the video is still being downloaded. Thus, a streamed video often begins almost immediately while a downloaded video may take several seconds or even minutes before it begins. The negative impact of this later method is that the download delay may seem exceptionally long causing the user to question whether the site or link are broken and encouraging them to move on to something else, something faster. If the video is about a product you are selling, you may have just lost the sale. This is often the result of posting the video within another directory of your website. To avoid this, you want videos to stream. If you post your videos to YouTube or other similar services, they will stream by default.

  2. Does the video have sound, specifically spoken words?

    Whether the video is being narrated by someone offscreen or by people in the video itself, you must consider that some viewers may have hearing impairments. Therefore, it is necessary to include either a transcript of the text or add closed captioning with the video. Some applications can generate a closed caption file for the spoken words in a video. The Streams app from Microsoft and Youtube are two platforms that come to mind. However, no platform can perfectly generate text to go along with voice. Differences in the rate of speaking, local accents, and misinterpreting similarly sounding words all lead to errors in the generated text. Therefore, it is vital to review and correct the text generated. Along with the generates text, the appearance of that text must be synchronized with the actual spoken word in the video. Test this by playing the video with the sound turned off. What does the video say to you?

  3. Videos should not auto-start

    A video reference on a page should never auto-start. There should be an obvious control/button to start the video if and when the viewer decides they want to hear it. The reason they may not want the video to auto-start might be because they have been on the page before and have previously watched the video. Another common reason is that they are in an open environment with other people and having the video auto-start may be distracting and even annoying to others. Similarly, there should be a way to stop a video from playing. These video controls must not only exist, but they must be accessible not only by clicking a mouse on the screen, but also they must be available through the keyboard. If they are not, people with hand movement control issues who do not use a mouse may experience problems.

  4. Audio Description

    Audio description (AD) is a form of narration used to provide information surrounding key visual elements in a media work (such as a video or training program, or theatrical performance) for the benefit of blind and visually impaired consumers. These narrations are typically placed during natural pauses in the audio, and sometimes during dialogue if deemed necessary. Here is an example from Subaru.

    Subaru commercial

    I have also seen a video that takes the site visitor on a virtual tour of their newest facility. Unfortunately, for the vision impaired guest that virtual tour was worthless without a corresponding audio description file of what was being shown. Here is a test. Close your eyes while the video is playing. Do you get the same information?

Podcast Accessibility Rules

As you might expect, some of the rules for podcasts mirror those for videos.

  1. Media controls

    As with videos, podcasts should not automatically start upon displaying a page. Rather they should have clearly identifiable start and stop buttons that can also be accessed from the keyboard

  2. Captioning

    Remember that hearing impairments affect the sound from podcasts just as much as videos. Therefore, you should have either captions that display while the podcast plays or a separate transcript of the podcast.

  3. Navigation

    Can a user enter or exit focus of an embedded media file whether it is a podcast or video from the keyboard without using a mouse? What if they can tab into the media file but have no way to exit when the media file has ended back to the rest of the page?

In the News

Before I end this week’s post, I want to mention an editorial in our local paper from this week written by Ohad Gal of Lighthouse Works. He started off by stating that while the internet has become more central to most of our lives, that there are more than half a million Floridians who are blind or have substantial vision impairments. (Florida has a population of about 26.5 million so a half million is about 2%.)

Remember that this is just vision impairments. There are other types of impairments that affect as much as 6% of the population. If you think that none of what I’ve been talking about affects you or your web pages, Mr. Gal stated that according to a survey by WebAIM that 97% of the top million web pages have some type of accessibility issue. In addition, the number of web accessibility cases filed from 2017 to 2020 has doubled with 10% of those cases filed right here in Florida. Think about that!