508 Accessible Videos—Why (and How) to Make Them

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Making Web content and video accessible to people with disabilities is the law. Ensuring a video is accessible requires planning. Taking steps from day one will save you time and money. To verify that a video is accessible you’d need to incorporate three elements:

  1. Captioning

  2. Audio descriptions

  3. An Accessible video player

Why Accessibility Matters

Many government agencies are taking advantage of the popularity of online video to further their missions and meet the Presidential mandate for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government information to serve the American public.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 19% of the U.S. population can be classified as having a disability—whether from birth, by accident or via old age. This means many of your customers may be blind or visually-impaired, deaf or hard-of-hearing, cognitively impaired, or have dexterity or other physical disabilities. For these individuals, being able to access content on the Internet greatly affects their quality of life and, for federal employees, the ability to perform their job duties.

Section 508 is a U.S. federal law requiring all users, regardless of disability, to have a comparable experience from all government media, including videos. For a video to be accessible to a viewer, the person watching it must be able to understand what is happening in both the visual and audio portions of the video. A well-produced film ensures that a person can completely understand the message, no matter his or her disability. If your audience can’t understand either the visual or audio pieces, you can’t deliver your message.

Videos that meet the standards of Section 508 and are accessible to the disabled are known as being “508-compliant.”

How to Make Your Video Accessible (508-compliant)

Accessible videos have three main elements:

  • Captions—The audio parts of your video appear as text at the appropriate time and give access to people who are hearing impaired or deaf.

  • An audio description—A description of a video’s visual elements, gives access to people who are blind or visually impaired.

  • A 508-compliant video player—Ensures a person who requires keyboard navigation or an assistive device can navigate the window where the video plays (that is, the video player).

Is YouTube 508-Compliant?

The answer is no (YouTube videos don’t allow audio description tracks, for example), but don’t be discouraged. As long as a 508-compliant version of your video is hosted somewhere, you are covered. Some agencies will post a video to YouTube and then link back in the video description to the government website’s 508-compliant version.

Also remember that most video sharing sites frequently redesign their interfaces and add new functionality, which may affect their sites’ and players’ accessibility. Because we as federal agencies and multimedia producers can’t control the accessibility of media players’ on third-party sites, we must host Section 508-compliant, accessible videos on agency sites and provide a media player that is completely usable with massive technologies (such as speech recognition software, screen readers, etc.).

A Few Exceptions to Section 508

While most videos created by the government must be Section 508 compliant, there are a few exceptions (see ruling 1194.24(d)). Videos that do not require captions and audio descriptions include:

  • Internal videos—Videos used internally, on a one-time basis for training, including rented videos, assuming there were no other videos available that did have captions and/or audio descriptions. However, the program manager is still responsible for offering and providing reasonable accommodations, such as interpreters, real-time captioning (i.e., CART), an informal live/real-time audio description from a contractor, etc.

  • Uncut FootageRaw footage or B roll—that’s either included in its original form (uncut) for reporters to use or put up in draft form. This footage should be labeled as “unfinished” and not in its final form.


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