How can people who are blind or visually impaired 'watch' your video?

1 October 2020  

Smooth music, quickly succeeding atmospheric images, texts in images, just a grip in the toolbox of video makers. All very beautiful of course, but incredibly inaccessible for the 350,000 people who are blind or partially sighted in the Netherlands.

Since September, a new law has been introduced that stipulates that some online videos must also be easy to follow for this group. But how does that work exactly and what does this law mean for online video content.

New legislation

According to the 'Digital Accessibility Decree', all websites, and therefore all online videos, of all Dutch government and semi-government bodies must meet the accessibility requirements since September 23, 2020. This means that in addition to subtitles, every video must also have an audio description (for blind people) and a text alternative by default. With this support, the video is 'barrier-free' and everyone is able to follow the video properly. Extra hassle? No, that's great!

Digital web accessibility, what does that mean exactly?

The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guide Lines) describes what organizations must meet in order to be digitally accessible to everyone. In short, the guideline is based on four principles: operable, observable, understandable and robust. For web videos specifically, there are three components that must be available to comply with the guidelines: an audio description, subtitles and a text alternative.

Who are you doing that for?

In the Netherlands, more than 1.7 million people need support to watch videos. This includes blind and partially sighted people, but also people with a hearing impairment. In reality you are serving a group of a much larger size. We all use subtitles at times when the sound can't handle it. There is also a wider audience for an audio description; think, for example, of the more than 1 million people who are low literate and can therefore better understand the video.

Audio description, subtitling and text alternative: what is it and how do you get it?

Everyone is familiar with subtitles. As a video maker, you are probably regularly asked whether you can provide subtitles. There are countless options for making subtitles, whether or not free of charge, so we will not go into that now. Less well known are the audio description and the text alternative.

Audio Description

Audio description is a spoken description of what is happening on the screen at times when there is no speech. This way, people who are blind or visually impaired can follow exactly what is happening in your video.

With, for example, you can easily provide all your videos with such an audio description. You type what can be seen in your video when there is no voice-over and the so-called 'text-to-speech engine' turns it into spoken text. You will then receive a separate mp3 file that you can edit in the video or optionally turn on in the video player. Would your client prefer a real voice for the audio description? Then you simply download the 'script-on-time code file' with which Voicebooking can get started.

You don't have to be an expert to make your videos accessible. Anyone can do it, provided you have a good command of the Dutch language. There are good instructional videos online to teach you the basics. It will of course take some extra time. But again, it is quite easy to find colleagues who are happy to take your assignment off your hands.

Text alternative

The text alternative is a well-written text that describes what can be seen and heard in the video. This helps people who don't watch the video but want to know what information is being given. In fact, this is a combination of the audio description and the subtitles, in the order of the video. And by placing such a text alternative you also boost the SEO of a website. So a win-win, making videos accessible.

Help the government and other clients to be accessible

Recent research shows that of the 2,000 tested government websites, only 70 websites meet the legal requirements for accessibility. Video is often the bottleneck. Not every client will be equally well aware of the new obligations that have come into effect since September 23. So cool if you can point this out to your client. Especially if you also have a suitable solution.

Do you not produce videos for government agencies but for commercial organizations? Digital accessibility is also the norm for businesses. According to the Equal Treatment Based on Disability or Chronic Illness Act (Wgbh/cz), organizations must make their products and services accessible, including their videos. It can therefore pay off to also point out the importance of audio description, subtitling and text alternatives to other clients.

In addition to taking social responsibility, this also results in a greater reach, longer viewing time and improved findability in Google. You don't want to take that away from your client, do you?

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