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Any form of audio on a website, whether prerecorded or live, audio only or as part of a video or animation, should be provided in an alternative form so that it can be perceived by people that can't access the audio. Such alternatives include transcripts, captions and sign language.
An audio transcript is a text version of the audio in a prerecorded audio or video file. It should be located close to the audio or video file so that it is easy to find for anyone that wishes to read it. As a transcript can be long, it is adequate to provide a link to the transcript in close proximity to the audio or video file.
Transcripts should identify who is speaking and include any relevant background sounds. Full verbatim transcripts include every sound, even ums and ahs, that occured in the original audio. Clean verbatim transcripts remove these extra sounds whilst leaving the rest of the audio as is. Nothing is paraphrased or summarised. They should include information about who is speaking and time stamps can also be useful, although not required, especially if the transcript is for a video.
An added benefit of transcripts is that they can be more easily translated into other languages. This makes the audio content available to a wider range of people.
Captions are a text version of audio displayed alongside video inside the media player. They should include all forms of audio such as dialogue, background music, sound effects and anything else relevant to the person watching. If the video is prerecorded the captions should be synced with the audio. If the video is live there can sometimes be a short delay as the captions are being added in real time by professional real-time captioners. Most online video services offer the ability to upload caption files alongside the video. It is important to choose a video upload service with these capabilities.
There are two types of captions: Open Captions and Closed Captions.
Open captions are captions that are burned into the video track. They are always visible when the video is playing and there is no way to adjust the font size or style of the captions. They do however provide a consistent experience for everyone.
Closed captions are provided on a separate audio track which means they can be switched on and off by the user. Often the user will also have some control over the size and style of the captions so they can be adjusted to suit their personal needs. However, closed caption support may differ between different media players. The closed captions should be easy to access. Ideally, the button to turn them on and off is at the same level as the play/pause button in the media player.
When using captions within video-conferencing tools or for live events then auto-generated captions can provide some help. They are generally said to be around 80% accurate. However, this still means that 20% of information is lost. Auto-generated captions also become less accurate for people with accents and often are only available for English.
Auto-generated captions are better than nothing but they are not sufficient to be WCAG compliant. If you have the possibility to provide real time captioning, or even sign language, for live events then that should be the preference. Auto-generated captions should also be edited if a recording of the live event is being uploaded to a video-sharing platform afterwards.
How To Add Closed Captions To Your Audio?
Whether you are adding an introductory video about yourself on websites or embedding an audio clip of your favorite song to a game you're building, it's important to add closed captions to them. This will ensure that users who need captions have an easier viewing experience.
If using the video element within HTML you can specify a captions track by linking to a vtt file and specifying that the kind is captions. Multiple caption tracks in different languages can be added if necessary.
<video controls width="200">
<source src="video.mp4" type="video/mp4" />
Video upload services such as YouTube and Vimeo allow you to upload captions in various file formats including VTT, WebVTT and SRT.
There are over 300 different sign languages used around the world. For many deaf and hard of hearing people it is their primary method of communication and may be easier to understand or be less cognitively demanding than reading captions or transcripts.
Sign language is more often used for live events as information can be conveyed more quickly than using live captions. Important information on a website could also be conveyed by embedding videos of the information being signed.
Accessible Media Players
The audio and video media players included in the HTML specification are very basic and will require some work to make them accessible. Many video upload/sharing services exist where work is well underway to provide an accessible experience for users so it is often beneficial to use such a service instead and embed the media player into your site. However, it's always important to check any third party tool you choose to use to make sure it is accessible.
The key things to check when looking for a media player are that it is keyboard accessible and doesn't trap keyboard focus. It should also have the ability to add captions and the captions should be easy to find and operate with assistive technology.
- 1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only (prerecorded)
- 1.2.2 Captions (prerecorded)
- 1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (prerecorded)
- 1.2.4 Captions (live)
- 1.2.5 Audio Description (prerecorded)
- 1.2.6 Sign Language (prerecorded)
- 1.2.8 Media Alternative (prerecorded)
- 1.2.9 Audio-only (live)
- 1.3.3 Sensory characteristics
- 1.4.2 Audio Control
- 1.4.7 Low or No Background Audio
Page last updated: 7th October 2023