The internet's reach is growing every day – new geographic regions are gaining internet access, new generations are finding their place on the web, and new technologies are allowing all audiences greater degrees of internet accessibility. But if you're a content creator or publisher, it can take a lot of work to make sure your online media can reach everyone.
Some accessibility practices are fairly well-known: providing captions for videos, for example, is becoming a widespread practice among content publishers. But there are so many other ways to make your online content more widely accessible, and most of them are quick & painless. Here's the rundown of seven that you might not have thought about.
1. Captions are a good start, but you can do more to make your videos work for everyone
Closed captions are widely known to make video content more accessible, but there are other things to keep in mind. Open captions, for instance (subtitles that don't require a user to turn them on), are a good default for video accessibility, so that video content is immediately available to hearing-impaired users.
The accessibility of your open captions themselves can be improved, as well. Often elderly or visually-impaired viewers aren't able to read smaller text, so make sure your captions are in a large enough font all your users to read.
Foreign-language audiences may also be left out if you're only using subtitles, even open captions. Like text-to-speech technologies, auto-translation software is very rarely able to recognize and translate a video's captions. Providing multi-lingual open captions might be a good idea, if you know what languages your audience is most likely to know. Better yet, providing full video transcripts can make your video content available to foreign audiences. This also allows your video to be accessible to the deafblind, so that they can use alternative text-reading technology and text-to-braille interfaces.
Additionally, a video's audio doesn't tell nearly the whole story. For visually impaired audiences, it's helpful to provide alt text that is readable by text-to-speech technologies. Or, better yet, include visual descriptions within the video itself. Short, spoken descriptions of the video's visual content can help visually-impaired viewers get the most our of your content.
2. Warn your audience if you're going to show potentially harmful content
There's no secret formula here. If you expect that some part of a video you're publishing, some language used in an article, or some themes of your content may be especially disturbing or harmful to some viewers, provide a brief heads-up! In some situations – depictions or presentations of wartime, extreme violence, or sexual assault, for example – a more substantial trigger warning may be needed, since this type of content can be severely harmful for audiences with past trauma.
While not all potentially disturbing situations warrant a formal trigger warning, it's still a good idea to alert your audience to what your content contains. All it takes is a simple, unobtrusive sentence along these lines: "Reader: This [article/video/story] discusses [potentially disturbing situation]." You can embed the text on top of your video or insert a short intro scene before the video starts.
And if someone lets you know that they would have appreciated a warning of some sort, add one whenever possible. Your viewers and readers know themselves better than anyone – listen to them!
3. Be mindful of visual sensitivities like epilepsy
Flashy, eye-catching visuals are often effective in gaining audiences' attention, and content publishers often use bright contrasts and rapid movement to attract viewers. But the most eye-catching visual effects can also be the most harmful to epileptic or otherwise visually sensitive audiences. And dizzying movements or images can be uncomfortable for individuals with certain types of vertigo.
Government publications, television providers, and movie theaters are frequently prohibited by federal, state, or local laws to depict visual flashes in specific frequency ranges, harsh contrasts and bright colors. Or, in some cases, these groups are required to provide warnings for content that is potentially harmful along those lines. Your platform is probably not regulated in the same way, but many guidelines can be useful for independent content publishers, too!
4. Make your text readable to a broad audience
Reading impairments like dyslexia can make certain fonts difficult for people to read, so make sure that your text is presented in a readable way.
- Style: To reach to the broadest possible audience, avoid cursive and highly stylized fonts. Excessive italics may also increase reading difficulty.
- Font family: Sans serif fonts like Arial are a good place to start. On some platforms, you can use optimized fonts like Dyslexie.
- Color: Readers with poor eyesight, high or low color sensitivity, or color-blindness can find both slight color gradations and harsh color contrasts difficult to read. Make sure your text contrasts with the background it's overlaid on. If the text is on top of a video, a text outline may help make it stick out on a moving background. Your colorways can have a big impact on legibility.
As a general rule: If you have no reading or visual impairments, you shouldn't need to squint or slow your reading pace to read text. If you're struggling, the text is probably not accessible to all your potential readers.
5. Make your language as accessible as possible
Publishers have only recently started to take this broad advice seriously. Clarity and brevity are the most obvious components of language accessibility. If you're trying to reach a general audience, make sure that all people – even those with intellectual and attention difficulties – can get the most out of your content. Use short words and straight-forward sentence structures.
All writers, especially on universally accessible internet platforms, should consider the needs and comfort of their entire audience. What terminology does their audience already know? What words should you clarify? Luckily, clarity and brevity are valuable in any context – accessible writing is good writing!
6. Make sure social posts are readable by text-to-speech technology
The language of social media is different than the language of everyday speech and writing. The rules around accessibility for social media language are developing constantly as social media evolves.
Hashtags, for instance, present a unique problem: since all the spaces are removed, text-to-speech readers might not know where one word ends and the next begins, and readers with dyslexia may have more trouble reading the message. Using CamelCase, or capitalizing the first letter of each word, helps make your hashtags accessible to visually impaired or dyslexic readers.
Likewise, emojis can make the text-to-speech experience unpleasant for users. Long strings of emojis are easy to skim for most readers, but text-to-speech readers read each emoji as a word or phrase, so large groups of emojis can be very disruptive and frustrating for visually impaired audiences. It's best to limit your emoji use to just a few of the most meaningful and helpful ones – use their efficiency to your advantage!
7. Accessibility means inclusion
Media accessibility should be understood as part of the overall goal of digital inclusion. Audiences will be drawn to your content and connect with it more if you make sure everyone can feel involved. Do your best to represent people of various identities and backgrounds in your video and written content. Use gender-neutral pronouns when appropriate, and be conscientious in the ways you refer to people and groups.
Media appropriateness also falls into the category of media inclusivity. When possible, make your content appropriate to people of all ages. And in cases when your content may not be appropriate for children, or for situations like school or work, let your audience know directly. F0r example, at Kapwing, we avoid any meme templates that display inappropriate or violent media.
Resources for achieving online media accessibility
Knowing the steps to take is half the battle. Knowing the tools that can help you achieve media accessibility is the other half. Here are a few that you should know about.
Kapwing is a free, online video and multimedia editor. One of its most popular features is its streamlined Subtitler, which allows users to add open captions to video content, using both its automatic transcription and its manual subtitle tools. The Subtitler also allows users to add subtitles in multiple languages and alphabets, for enhanced international accessibility. They can be made in a broad range of readable fonts and variable text size. And with a Pro subscription, the SRT file from a subtitled video can be downloaded and used as a full-text transcript, readable by text-to-speech readers.
Kapwing's Studio also allows users to add scenes of audio description, content warnings, appropriateness warnings, and more. These can be useful for individuals with visual, hearing, and reading disabilities and difficulties.
Helperbird is an all-in-one browser extension that provides several tools for internet readability. It can adjust font, color, and brightness for readers with visual and reading disabilities. It even provides reading rulers and instant dictionary assistance for users with varying degrees of reading ability and comfort. Promote it to your audience!
Grammarly is an appealing and improving tool for digital writing, and its readability scoring tool is the most useful one on the web. A highly readable text is more accessible to readers with intellectual disabilities, attention disorders, and reading difficulties, so keeping track of your readability is a valuable step in achieving media accessibility.