Digital accessibility has been paramount in 2020, since nearly everybody is relying more than ever on digital content for their work. For students, content creators, and everyone in between, the internet is the new workplace, classroom, office, library, and theater.
With everyone's increased online activity, it's vital that every person feels comfortable, empowered, and free in digital spaces. This is easier said than done, though, since digital accessibility relies heavily on using the right tools. For this article, I consulted with Mariella Paulino and Catarina Rivera, Co-Founders of Chicas Talk Disability and founders of Project Hearing and Blindish Latina, respectively. Critically informed and up-to-date on digital accessibility issues, they gave me some much-needed insight into the most useful software products that are dedicated to aiding users who lack full access to different sorts of content.
There are countless tools out there to boost the accessibility of online content, but I've narrowed this list down to just the top 5. Let's get started!
1. Google Meet
Video conferencing has been HUGE in 2020. Zoom may be getting most of the headlines this year, but one of its competitors in particular offers superior accessibility services. Google Meet provides a top-of-the-line real-time closed captioning software that is indispensable to hearing-impaired audiences. Plus, its suite of video conferencing features has caught up to Zoom in other areas, as well, with virtual backgrounds that allow anyone to feel comfortable in front of the camera without revealing more than they want to show (another accessibility boost).
Google Meet has been transformative for people with hearing disabilities – its auto-captioning is more accurate and faster than any other platform, and it reduces the attention load needed to read lips for entire meetings. It's good for every audience, really. It can even make up for lag and internet connectivity issues.
– Catarina Rivera, Chicas Talk Disability
What’s more, Google Meet goes a long way in ensuring another type of accessibility: financial accessibility. Top competitors like Microsoft Teams and Zoom offer similar tools, but they aren't available on all platforms or require a paid plan to use. Google accounts, on the other hand, are free for everyone, and video conferencing in Google Meet supports up to an hour of video conferencing at a time, with up to 100 participants, with real-time English closed captioning automatically enabled for everyone.
That's why Google Meet is #1 here: the robust features it offers for free make it a radically accessible product.
Video and audio content can be really tough to access for populations with hearing difficulties. The most common remedy is subtitles. They’ve been around for over a century, but subtitles remain far from universal, and even the universally auto-generated subtitles offered on YouTube – by far the most comprehensive subtitling service on social media – only offers subtitles in 10 different languages.
We love how easy it is to use Kapwing to automatically generate closed captions and add them to videos – it makes the work easy for content creators. Kapwing is really one of the best kept-secrets in the accessibility space.
–Mariella Paulino, Chicas Talk Disability
The browser-based multimedia editor Kapwing contains a full-service, highly customizable subtitling tool, which features manual and auto-transcription options, and supports custom font, color, size, and position. The biggest upside to using Kapwing is its simplicity – anyone can add custom subtitles to a video in just a few minutes, and even translate their videos's subtitles into over 50 different languages automatically. The subtitle editor also allows for several accessibility enhancements like custom font uploads, size adjustment, and added text background for better contrast.
Most of Kapwing’s most valuable accessibility tools are free to use, but the Kapwing Pro subscription unlocks greater functionality in several areas. Longer video uploads and exports, permanent online storage, SRT file downloads, and custom font uploads (for accessible fonts like Dyslexie, for example) are all unlocked with a monthly subscription.
Web accessibility tools don’t get more comprehensive than Helperbird. The browser extension works in Chrome, FireFox, and Edge, and contains a host of accessibility boosts, all in one package.
Helperbird was started as a reading aid for people with dyslexia, but it has expanded to provide features to serve people with colorblindness, cognitive difficulties, language barriers, attention disorders, and other obstacles that prevent people from navigating the web easily. They offer a free version of the extension, with many of its most helpful reading, text adjustment, and annotation features available. However, users may also pay for a Pro version, unlocking several high-level features like auto-scrolling, cognitive load management, high-contrast mode, and AI-generated alt text for images.
You may have heard of Descript or seen ads for it, but you probably don't have the whole picture. It isn't only geared toward podcasters – it's evolving a lot, and has a ton of utility for increasing the accessibility of your content, as well as giving more people the ability to create top-quality video and audio content.
Descript is a multifaceted tool, but it’s been popular until now as a powerful, easy-to-use tool to edit audio. With one click, you can remove all filler words. And editing audio is as easy as deleting a word from the automatically-generated transcript. We appreciate how podcast creators can use Descript to create transcripts of their podcasts, which makes the content much more accessible to people with hearing disabilities.
–Mariella Paulino, Chicas Talk Disability
Descript's most distinctive tool is its automatic overdub and filler word removal software. This may seem like a high-end luxury for podcasters, but for content creators with difficulties speaking, it can change the entire content creation experience. Where creators may once have felt excluded, Descript allows them to engage in podcasts, reactions, tutorials, and other speech-heavy content. To unlock Descript's most valuable accessibility tools, you'll need to pay for the $24/month Pro plan. This may make it tough for people who are just starting out, but it's a highly valuable subscription plan.
5. Microsoft’s Inclusive Design
Accessibility is a fluid term – new aspects of accessibility are advocated for and added to the online vocabulary frequently. Inclusivity is one of these fields. You may think of them as separate issues, but accessibility and inclusion are closely related in 2020. If your site or content isn’t safe and inclusive for everyone who may visit, you’re exposing some of your audience to potential harm and excluding them from safely and comfortably engaging with your work.
Inclusivity encompasses an incredibly broad set of ideas, though, and there’s no single, simple tool you can use in order to make your content fully inclusive. Instead, I've included a comprehensive resource, rather than a tool: Microsoft’s work on Inclusive Design. Their online compendium of inclusivity best practices covers a lot of ground, is taught in a way that anyone can learn it, and connects you with top-notch external resources if you want to read further. If there's any area where your understanding of digital inclusivity is lacking, this is the perfect place to start.
I hope this article serves as a useful starting point for you either to improve the accessibility of your content or overcome your own accessibility barriers and make your own content more easily. For further product updates, content creations tips, and software tutorials, subscribe to Kapwing App on YouTube. In the meantime, check out these related articles on accessibility and inclusivity in online content: