Modern Multimedia Accessibility

In the online world, content is king and video content is the king of kings. People use the Internet to search for solutions and videos are a great way to provide visual answers, as well as an exceptional way to demonstrate your expertise. Because of this YouTube has become a popular free way to drive visitors to websites through videos. Good how-to-videos and instructive videos will keep visitors coming back for more and drive-up your site’s traffic.

The the sad reality is that the accessibility of videos is difficult for those who are physically disabled. Audio files and podcasts are equally as difficult. If there is content-rich information presented via video without audio describing the information conveyed by the video, the information will not be accessible by individuals who are blind or have low vision. Or hearing impaired users will be able to view and understand the visual content, but the audio podcast content is inaccessible to these users.  This is because visitors with disabilities depends on-screen readers or keyboards to access online content. Without built-in accessibility feature for videos, audio, podcasts and multimedia, they can’t activate the play, pause, rewind or volume buttons/controls.

Importantly, if your site has any governmental ties or is funded even partial through a government grant, the site is required to be accessible to all users and be Section 508 compliant. These requirements pertain not only to videos, but to podcast (even MP3s), audio files and other multimedia. I am going to offer a brief outline with explanations these requirements.

Accessibility for Video

First, for video, according to the W3C, captions should be available for every published video. These captions should be text equivalents in the same language as the audio and be synchronized with the video or multimedia presentation. Visitors should have the option to turn captions on or off at will.

Secondly, an audio description should be included which will make the video accessible to the visually impaired.

Other generally accepted rules of thumb are:

  • Don’t enable auto play so that a media file automatically plays on page load (audio/video should be user-activated).
  • Don’t substitute HTML or text files for captions and audio descriptions. The caption should be in sync with the video.

Accessibility for Podcasts and Sound Files

For sound files and podcast to be accessible, we need to include transcripts for the hearing-impaired audiences. These can be provided as an HTML page or linked to a separate text file.

Include captions in video podcasts and make sure that captions are appropriately synchronized

Provide audio descriptions of visual content that conveys important information in video podcasts.

How to Generate Captions?
Unfortunately, there are only few applications available for creating closed captions:

  1. NCAM’s magPIE (free, also for MAC)
  2. URUSoft’s Subtitle Workshop (free)
  3. Manitu Group’s Captionate ($60)
  4. VideoToolShed’s SubBits subtitler ($199)
  5. World Caption is a free Macintosh software program created at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that makes it easy to add captions to any QuickTime compatible video.

Accessibility with Flash has been a challenge over the years and prevented many organizations, especially U.S. Government agencies, from using Flash. I have been doing some research on making Adobe Flash 508 compliant and found some great resources I would like to share.

Flash’s benefit is how well-supported  it is on Web browsers — something like 95-98% of the Web browsers out there. So if you build a site or application in Flash, you know that it will be viewed correctly by anyone who has the Flash plugin. It is operating system and browser independent.

The disadvantages of Flash are its heavy use of graphic/non-text content. This has been a major issue causing not just high bandwidth, but accessibility issues with screen readers and keyboard access. Of which can be controlled with planning and during the Flash development stage.

There are three ways that Flash designers can deal with this issue:

  • Make the Flash content self-voicing, eliminating the need for the screen reader.
  • Provide an accessible alternative to the Flash content. (e.g. HTML)
  • Make the Flash content natively accessible to the screen reader.

Flash player 10 exposes all text elements to screen readers by default, and making Flash non-text elements natively accessible to the screen reader is now easier since adding text equivalents has been introduced to the Flash authoring application with the “Accessibility Panel”.

For a good overview of how to create accessible sites in Flash, watch this instructional Adobe video “Creating Accessible Sites in Flash”.  This video explains and demonstrates accessible Flash features. Watching this video provides a better understanding and enhances the importance of making Flash accessible with simple built-in design features.

TheBottom Line Question: Should You Use Flash, Videos, Audio or Podcasts?

They are all wonderful tools that provide stickiness, instruction, problem solving and  knowledge about products and services. If these will offer important features to your site, and your site is in the public or government sector or receives government funding follow the Section 508 guidelines. In general, overall it’s good practice to follow the guidelines I have outlined for any site.

Accessibility Resources
Useful resources to learning more about accessibility.

WebAIM is a nonprofit organization within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University and provides comprehensive web accessibility techniques, training, and tools.

National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
NCAM is a research and development facility dedicated to the issues of media and information technology for people with disabilities in their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.

Trace Center
The Trace Research & Development Center is part of the College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1971, Trace has been a pioneer in the field of technology and disability.


Adobe® is an industry leader in accessibility and supports the creation of outstanding web experiences by encouraging web developers to produce rich, engaging content that is accessible to all.

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