Five ways to increase video accessibility and minimise cost

  • Author: Sarah Pulis
  • Date: 5 Oct 2012

With more than half the population accessing videos online, there's no doubt that multimedia is a powerful medium with which to reach your audience and maximise the impact of your message.

Nearly 20 per cent of Australians experience some form of hearing loss, so it is vital that your video content is accessible despite being one of the most costly components of web accessibility. When you take into account the cost of producing captions and audio description for video content, it can definitely add up.

There are several ways that you can increase the accessibility of your video content while minimising the cost, such as using do-it-yourself (DIY) or automated captioning tools, reusing your script to create captions and minimise the need for audio description, and providing a full text alternative.

Here are our top five:

1. Consider DIY captioning for short videos

Captioning can be an expensive business if you publish a lot of video content. For instance, Australian captioning suppliers charge between $15 and $20 per minute of video. Outsourcing to overseas services can be considerably cheaper but the quality may vary. It's very much a case of "you get what you pay for".

Captioning is a WCAG 2.0 Level A requirement, which means that all your video content must be captioned in order for you to meet minimum accessibility requirements. Captions are vital for people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, and also benefit people with learning difficulties, those learning a new language, and anyone in a noisy environment. Furthermore, they can increase the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your video content because caption files are indexed by search engines.

Given the generally short attention span of internet users, chances are that a lot of your video content is short. Videos of five minutes or less are perfect candidates for do-it-yourself (DIY) captioning.

To start producing captions in-house, you must first provide staff with training in captioning guidelines so they can create quality captions. Once staff is familiar with captioning guidelines, they can start using one of the free online captioning tools to create captions.

Captioning tools allow you to create captions and then save them ready to upload to your website or a third-party video sharing site such as YouTube. Media Access Australia's Chris Mikul, a trained captioner with 25 years experience, has evaluated these tools and suggests using Amara for do-it-yourself captioning.

So, what is the real saving? Access iQ™ staff caption our own videos in-house and with a bit of practice, it takes us approximately 45 minutes to caption a five minute video — including checking the quality of the captions.

All Access iQ™ staff have completed the Introduction to Online Captioning workshop which covers captioning standards, free online captioning tools, pros and cons of do-it-yourself captioning versus employing a professional captioning supplier, and hands-on training in do-it-yourself captioning.

2. Use YouTube's automatic captions for caption time codes

Automated captioning tools hold so much promise for producing captions. The ability to use voice recognition technology to automatically generate captions for video would significantly reduce the cost of captions.

Unfortunately, automated captioning tools such as the service offered by YouTube often produce grossly inaccurate captions. If you haven't watched CAPTION FAIL: Jamaican Vacation Hoax, it's highly recommended, not only for its entertainment value, but also as a demonstration of the issues with automated captioning.

You can however use YouTube's automatic captioning service to create captions and then edit them within YouTube or Amara, for example.

Note: In order to do this using YouTube, you must be the owner of the video.

The advantage of this is that the time codes for each caption, which indicate when the caption starts and stops, are provided as part of the captioning file. This means you do not have to spend time syncing your captions with your video.

3. Reuse your script to create captions

If you have a script for your video, you can convert it to a text file and upload it to YouTube, which will automatically turn it into a caption file with time codes.

When combined with the strategy that uses YouTube's automated captioning tool for time codes, this will significantly reduce the amount of time spent on do-it-yourself captions.

4. Cover as many visuals as you can in the script

Audio description provides the best experience for people who are blind or vision impaired, as a 'narrator' describes visual elements including scenes, settings, actions and costumes verbally during gaps in dialogue.

Yet audio description is generally even more expensive than captioning. For instance, Australian audio description suppliers charge between $20 and $30 per minute of video, and often have a minimum charge as well, such as 15 minutes. It also doesn't matter how much audio description is needed — for example, even if only five minutes out of a 20 minute video requires audio description, you still pay for 20 minutes.

For short videos, creating a script that minimises or removes the need for audio description can reduce your costs. This may depend on the type of video that you are creating. For example, if you are creating an instructional video with screen capture, you can describe the steps that are shown visually using the script. For example, "Select the File tab in the top right-hand corner and select new."

Access iQ™ recently created a video to promote our accessible content authoring workshop. At the end of the video are the details for the workshop including dates and location. Instead of putting up the details with no audio, we included the workshop details within the script so that audio description wasn't needed.

5. Provide a full text alternative for all video content

A full text alternative is a collated document of captions and audio description that is used to provide information equivalent to that communicated in a video for people with vision impairments.

The WCAG 2.0 requirements for producing an accessible alternative for people who are blind and vision impaired are:

  • Level A which gives you the option of providing a full text alternative or audio description (Success Criterion 1.2.3)
  • Level AA which states that you must provide audio description (Success Criterion 1.2.5)
  • Level AAA which states that you must provide a full text alternative, and audio description or extended audio description (Success Criterion 1.2.7)

Given that you already have to provide captions for Level A compliance and audio description for AA compliance, minimal effort is required to produce a full text alternative. You simply take the caption file (minus the time codes) and the script for the audio description and merge them together to create a full text alternative.

A full text alternative may be the only alternative that is accessible to a person who is deaf-blind. Furthermore, some people may prefer to read a full text alternative rather than watch a video regardless of their ability. With a full text alternative you can glance through the text and read the parts you're interested in rather than having to watch the whole video.