Visual texts: do they make a video more accessible or not?

18 April 2024  
Illustration in the Scribit.Pro colors of a man with a magnifying glass over a search bar

Many videos, but also films, series and television programs contain visual texts. Just think of the title of a TV quiz, the end credits of a feature film, a product logo in a commercial or the moving text bar at the bottom of the screen with the latest news in the news broadcasts. Or the name, position and location of the reporter from that same news report. But also the name on the front of a store during an atmospheric shot in a series is visual text. Or the message that one character sends to another.

Visual texts provide visual information. But a viewer who cannot see or cannot see well will not receive this information. That's why Scribit.Pro creates audio description for online video. A voice then describes what can be seen at times when there is no speaking in the video. Visual texts are also included in this image description. This way the message is also clear for people with a visual impairment. The video is also much more accessible for people with reading or learning difficulties, autism or brain damage, or for non-native speakers.

These visual texts often consist of text only. But sometimes the textual information is in a graph or table, or symbols or icons can also be seen in addition to words, letters and/or numbers. This is, for example, the case with the weather cards in the weather forecast.

But do visual texts actually make videos more accessible, or not?

That depends somewhat on the type of video and the type of visual text. In addition, visual text can make the message of a video more understandable for one viewer, but it may be more difficult to understand for another. Another important aspect is the way in which the text appears on screen or is incorporated into the production.

Sometimes visual texts are supportive; a visual translation of whatever is being said. The visual text then makes the message clearer for people with good eyesight and hearing, because that information is then given even more emphasis. Image and sound then reinforce each other. It can also make a (video) production more attractive or effective, because text can give the video a certain atmosphere or a specific style. It can be distracting for people who are dependent on subtitles, because the image text and subtitle block sometimes overlap and the image can be completely filled with text, all of which has to be read. In such cases, visually impaired people who can still see something can also perceive less of the rest of the image.

Visual texts often provide more information than is discussed in the video. It is then extra information that is only conveyed visually. Users who are blind or partially sighted miss this information (in whole or in part). That's why audio description is important.

But sometimes a video does not provide enough space to provide a full audio description. After all, the voice-over voice that provides the image description must fit between the dialogues. In the silent moments, when no important sound can be heard. Our image describers then face the creative and challenging task of displaying the visual information as clearly as possible, in just a few words. Sometimes only the essence remains and there is no room for details. For example, it may happen that visual texts do not completely fit into the audio description, or, in the worst case, not at all. Or the limited space in the video only offers the possibility of a shortened visual text, which says the same or approximately the same in slightly fewer words.

That's why Scribit.Pro also makes a transcript for every video. This is a text in which all visual and auditory information from the video is collected. A transcript has unlimited space to include all visual texts in their entirety. The transcript ensures that the video is as accessible as possible for the largest possible group of viewers. Viewers with hearing impairments can read the transcript. Visually impaired users can have this text read aloud by a screen reader. The viewer with a cognitive challenge such as autism, ADHD or brain injury can also benefit from a transcript.

Visual texts are contained in their entirety in a transcript, preceded by an indication that it is a text that can be seen on screen. The visual text also receives extra emphasis in the transcript, just like in the source video itself. This allows it to strengthen the message and make it clearer.

But when a visual text provides information that can only be seen and cannot be heard, the visually impaired user will only receive this information if it is incorporated into the audio description. It is therefore important that the video offers enough space for the voice-over to pronounce the text in the audio description. Just as a viewer with good eyesight must be given time to read the text, an accessible video means that the text must be able to be read aloud in the image description. 

For viewers with hearing loss or others who require subtitles to fully understand the video, it is important that the subtitles are easy to read throughout the video. It is therefore best to place a visual text in the top half of the image, because then subtitles and visual texts cannot overlap. These viewers should certainly be given plenty of time to read all the texts. Sentences are easier to read than individual words that appear on the screen at intervals and then together form a sentence.

By leaving a visual text on screen for a number of seconds, in the top half of the screen and without voices or sounds, video makers can easily make their productions more accessible.

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