Making your videos accessible to all

Chris Pratt may be Hollywood’s current golden boy, but he’s not above making a few mistakes. Last May he drew fire for asking his fans to “turn up the volume and not just ‘read the subtitles’” on a video he posted to Instagram promoting the second installment of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

What he overlooked, of course, were the millions of people who have a hearing disability. In his follow-up apology, he acknowledged that his remark was “incredibly insensitive to the many folks out there who depend on subtitles.”

Instagram does this thing where it mutes all the videos it shows and forces you to turn on the volume in order to hear them. (maybe because most people are watching those videos at work when they should be working and don’t want to get caught. I know that’s when I do it. 😬) So when I made a video recently with subtitles, and requested that people turn up the volume and not just “read the subtitles” it was so people wouldn’t scroll past the video on mute, thus watching and digesting the information in the video. HOWEVER, I realize now doing so was incredibly insensitive to the many folks out there who depend on subtitles. More than 38 million Americans live with some sort of hearing disability. So I want to apologize. I have people in my life who are hearing-impaired, and the last thing in the world I would want to do is offend them or anybody who suffers from hearing loss or any other disability. So truly from the bottom of my heart I apologize. Thanks for pointing this out to me. In the future I’ll try to be a little less ignorant about it. Now… I know some of you are going to say, “Hey! Chris only apologized because his publicist made him!” Well. That is not the case. As always I control my social media. Nobody else. And I am doing this because I’m actually really sorry. Apologies are powerful. I don’t dole them out Willy-Nilly. This is one of those moments where I screwed up and here’s me begging your pardon. I hope you accept my apology. And on that note. Why doesn’t Instagram have some kind of technology to automatically add subtitles to its videos? Or at least the option. I did a little exploring and it seems lacking in that area. Shouldn’t there be an option for closed captioning or something? I’ve made them lord knows how much money with my videos and pictures. Essentially sharing myself for free. I know they profit. So… GET ON IT INSTAGRAM!!! Put closed captioning on your app. #CCinstaNow

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Pratt’s mea culpa is timely: We often talk about providing everyone with access to the same opportunities, but we can’t talk about inclusivity without talking about information access.

Inspired by a fantastic post by Unity Digital on web accessibility, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into what video accessibility means — and what companies can do to ensure that their videos are truly accessible to everyone.

Being Truly Inclusive

Glasses in front of a computer
Photo by Unsplash

It’s estimated that between 16 and 19 percent of all Americans live with a disability. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans with disabilities are more likely to say they never go online and less likely to have multiple devices that allow them to go online.

They’re also less likely to describe themselves as having a high level of confidence in their ability to use the internet and other communication devices to keep up with information.

Enjoying a video can be challenging — or even impossible — for those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, or visually impaired. It also poses problems for people with motor or cognitive impairments.

When you implement some simple strategies, your video can be appreciated by more people. But doing that requires you to think about the video start to finish. According to AccessbilityOz, video is made accessible by:

  • the way it is created
  • how it is inserted in the site
  • providing a transcript
  • providing audio descriptions
  • providing captions

We’ll talk about these more in detail, with the most important things to consider first.

The following guidelines will help make your videos more accessible to all:

At a minimum

Add captions

Adding captions allows your viewers to read what people say — either onscreen or in a voiceover — in your video. One of the easiest ways we’ve found to generate captions is to upload your video to YouTube (a private or unlisted link is fine) and create subtitles automatically. You can edit the text in the player and export it as an SRT (SubRip subtitle) file. You can then upload this file and caption your videos elsewhere. Most media players, including Facebook and Vimeo, are compatible with SRT files.

At the time of this writing, neither Twitter nor Instagram has a feature that allows captioning, so you have to embed video from another player or “burn” captions into the video itself using your editing program.

Whatever way you choose, if you’re displaying text on screen, make sure it’s reasonably large, uses high-contrast colors, and remains on-screen for long enough to be read.

video editing workstation
Photo by Unsplash

Include a transcript

Like captions, transcripts can improve user engagement and watch time. They’re also good for SEO. Beyond that, though, they’ll make your video more accessible to hearing-impaired people and help non-native English speakers better understand what’s being said.

The easiest way to create a transcript is to hire someone to transcribe your video, which can be done efficiently through a service like rev.com.

If you’d like to do it on the cheap and you’re willing to take the time to clean up grammar and correct typos, consider using a service like temi.com, a low-cost tool that will produce speech-to-text transcription in just five minutes. The accuracy is pretty good, and it comes with a free transcription editor that lets you edit your transcripts online.

A particularly helpful feature is one used by TED: an interactive transcript that allows users to click anywhere, and the video follows.

Use an accessible media player

You know what’s annoying for everyone? Videos that autoplay with sound. Video players that don’t allow you to pause, fast-forward, or control the video at all, so that your only option is to refresh or close down the browser. Players that aren’t functional in all major browsers.

Of course, when choosing a video player, you should consider more than the average user’s pet peeves. To improve accessibility for those with disabilities and impairments, consider the following criteria, outlined by AccessibilityOz. Your player should:

  • Allow users to control the video via the keyboard only
  • Allow users to control the video via the mouse only
  • Allow users to control the volume with mouse only and keyboard
  • Allow users to control the volume with the keyboard only
  • Ideally never start automatically (or if it does, a mechanism to pause the video is provided at the start of the page)
  • Allow users to turn on captions or audio descriptions with the mouse only
  • Allow users to turn on captions or audio descriptions with the keyboard only

More ways to increase access

man wearing headphones at his computer
Photo by Unsplash

Experts agree that video accessibility shouldn’t stop there. To up your accessibility game, consider:

  • Adding an audio description, a separate audio track that describes important visual content for people who can’t see the video.
  • Avoiding flashing or strobing content — it can trigger epilepsy and migraines in some people.
  • Be sensitive to those with visual impairments by using high-contrast colors and not conveying information through color alone.

Where we’re headed

Recent lawsuits brought against Netflix and Hulu show that, increasingly, the internet is considered a public space and thus subject to federal laws about accessibility for people with disabilities. We predict that more companies will be required to make their websites fully complaint—and since videos take up an increasingly larger share of all web content, that means making videos more accessible.

For Pratt’s part, his apology came with a call-to-action:

“Shouldn’t there be an option for closed captioning or something? … GET ON IT, INSTAGRAM!!! Put closed captioning on your app. #CCinstaNow”

Inspiring words for anyone who’s focused on true inclusivity.


Open Eye Creative is a small video production company with a huge vision: to use the power of story to strengthen and propel organizations that are changing the world. Read more.