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    Why Captioning and Audio Description are Critical Components of Web Accessibility

    by Elisa Edelberg

    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) web accessibility lawsuits hit record numbers in 2018, making it more crucial than ever to invest the time and resources to getting compliant with accessibility laws and standards. But, where do you begin?

    With video making up 80% of the world’s internet traffic (and a predicted 82% by 2022) according to Cisco, video seems like a good place to start. It’s reported that 54% of people want to see videos from their favorite brands. Not only do people want their favorite brands to make video, but they also want captions.

    When it comes to web accessibility, captions and audio description are critical components for a number of reasons. With the increase in lawsuits, legal compliance is certainly at the top of that list. Additionally, it’s critical to consider the large number of individuals who benefit from these tools in one way or another, and of course, there are many additional benefits to providing both captioning and audio description on your videos.

    Legal Compliance

    There are three major federal accessibility laws in the US that impact web accessibility – the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act has two sections which impact video accessibility as follows – Title II and Title III. Title II applies to public entities and Title III applies to places of public accommodation.

    The 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act has captioning requirements that apply to online video that previously appeared on television. It requires that any online video that was on television with captions has to be captioned when it goes online. Additionally, the CVAA aims to phase in audio description requirements for broadcast by 2020.

    The Rehabilitation Act has two sections – 504 and 508 – which impact video accessibility. Section 504 is a broad anti-discrimination law that requires equal access for individuals with disabilities, and applies to federal and federally funded programs. Section 508 requires federal communications and information technology to be made accessible. The Section 508 refresh also references the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which specifically notes captioning and audio description requirements.

    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

    WCAG 2.0 are the international standards and best practices for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 has clear requirements for video accessibility and is frequently referenced in legal cases.

    WCAG aims to make content Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust and has three levels of compliance: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA.

    Level AA is what’s noted in most legal recommendations, and requires captions (for both pre-recorded and live video) and audio description for pre-recorded video content.

    [Many people wonder if captions generated with automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology are sufficient. A 2015 lawsuit against MIT and Harvard cited violations of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act for failure to provide “appropriately accurate and comprehensive captioning for online course materials.”]

    Providing Equal Access

    In addition to the legal requirements, captions and audio description provide access to the many individuals with hearing and vision loss.

    Over 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss, and 3.5% of the world's population is living with some degree of vision impairment.

    Captions and audio description are critical accommodations for providing equal access to these individuals – whether they’ve disclosed their disability or not.

    [30% of working professionals have a disability, and 62% of employees with a disability have an invisible disability or a disability that one cannot immediately identify upon meeting a person.]

    I mentioned that legal compliance is just one of the components of web accessibility. With 253 million people with vision loss and 360 million people with disabling hearing loss, creating an accessible web just makes sense. It makes your content available to all of these individuals, and likewise, allows equal access to the constantly growing amount of video content out there.

    These individuals aren’t the only ones that benefit from web accessibility, however. There are a number of additional benefits to providing captions and audio description to create a more accessible web.

    Additional Benefits

    80% of viewers react negatively to videos auto playing with sound, so many social sites play them silently. However, 41% of videos are incomprehensible – to everyone – without sound or captions. What good is a video that’s incomprehensible? By adding captions, you can make these videos accessible and more enjoyable to everyone.


    Web and video accessibility helps learners of all abilities. Captions aid with comprehension of dialogue, clarification of terms, concentration, and engagement. In a research study on student uses and perceptions of captions and transcripts, 98.6% of students reported finding captions helpful.

    Providing audio description on video content is helpful for learners as well. Listening is a key step in learning a language and associating it with appropriate actions and behaviors, and auditory learners can greatly benefit from audio description as well. It’s estimated that about 20-30% of students retain information best through sound.

    User Experience and More Flexibility

    71% of people with a disability leave a website immediately if it’s not accessible, and even those without disabilities rely on web accessibility features. A Reddit user recently pointed out, “AD mode is awesome, and I like to call it chore mode, since I can listen to stuff while doing chores and not have to look at the screen.”

    Captions allow you to watch videos without headphones at your desk, on the train, while working out, or anywhere else, without disturbing those around you!

    Web accessibility impacts everyone, and captions and audio description are critical for providing an accessible, and a simply better experience for all consumers.

    Learn the basics of how to add closed captions to online video to make it fully  accessible, searchable, and SEO-friendly >>

    This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

    Web Accessibility

    Elisa Edelberg

    Elisa Edelberg

    Elisa Edelberg is a content marketing manager at 3Play Media.

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