Video Content and Universal Design (AccessComputing News Feb 2009)

Terrill Thompson, AccessComputing Technology Specialist

It is easier than ever to produce and distribute video content via DVD or the web. As an educator, how do you ensure that the videos you create are accessible to all students?

For students who are unable to hear, the solution is to provide either open or closed captions with the video. Open captions are included in the video track, and are always on. Closed captions are in a separate text track, and can typically be turned on or off by the user. Closed captions are supported by most media players and on YouTube (after uploading a video to YouTube, select the "Captions and Subtitles" link to upload a caption file or to learn more). There are a variety of tools and services to facilitate production of closed captions. The process is simple, provided you have a transcript.

For students who are unable to see, the solution is to provide audio description with the video. Audio description is a separate narration track that is added to the video, in which key visual content is described. Online videos can be made with closed caption audio description, which is contained within a separate audio file, and may be turned on or off by the user.

Accessibility features benefit others, such as those watching a video in a noisy environment or in a quiet setting such as a computer lab or library. Closed captions have the added benefit of being fully searchable; to experience this feature, see the DO-IT Video website at

The best time to consider accessibility is when you are planning your video. DO-IT uses a universal design approach in the creation of its videos. This approach takes into account the wide variety of characteristics of potential viewers during the design phase. As a result, incorporating accessibility features costs less and goes more smoothly. Consider these steps when planning and filming your video:

  • Consult with people with disabilities regarding video content, format, and presentation. Key stakeholders can provide formative input.
  • Start with a script, which can easily be converted to a transcript for captioning. This reduces time and costs.
  • When planning or scripting the video, include brief periods of silence during or near visual content in order to accommodate audio description.
  • Consider how your captions will be displayed. If they will be overlaid on the lower portion of video, film with that in mind; make sure the space that will later contain captions does not include important visual content.

Learn more about creating accessible videos in the Knowledge Base article How do I make multimedia accessible? Captioning and audio description resources are listed at