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Optimising video for people with accessibility issues

Is ensuring that your content is accessible for everyone something you need to consider when creating it?

Elizabeth Cromwell


An isometric image containing equipment commonly used in Video production.

A lot of people tend to assume that the developers will take care of this, the social media network will take care of this, or that people with accessibility issues will figure it out for themselves, but this is not necessarily the case. If you create content that cannot be easily accessed by those with accessibility issues, you risk shutting out a large group of people, some of which could be within your target market.  

According to UK government statistics, at least 1 in 5 people have a disability (long or short term) or impairment. This equates to 20% of your potential audience that you can’t afford, ethically and financially, to neglect.

Sadly, when it comes to video accessibility for everyone, social media just isn’t there yet. For many, they think of video as an easy way to communicate, but for those people in society who are hard of hearing or who have difficulty seeing, videos can pose multiple problems. 

Videos tend to move too fast for people with accessibility issues - especially promotional videos, as businesses tend to cram as much information as they can into the shortest amount of time. As a result, not everyone will be able to see or hear essential information. Videos often feature background music and/or visual effects that many people with such disabilities would find distracting. When done well, video can be a fantastic medium; however, you need to always think about accessibility.

You should ensure that your videos are well lit, with minimal background noise, when filming. A good tip is to invest in a tripod to avoid shaky camera work. Minimalise the overlaying of too many effects, unless there is clear reason for doing so. Should your video include strobe effects of similar, it’s important that you add a warning at the beginning of your video, in the title, and in the video’s description, etc. People with epilepsy can suffer a fit from watching strobe lighting effects, and as some of these fits can be very serious indeed, it’s not worth taking the risk – label your video accordingly if there’s the risk to people’s health such as this.

When creating ‘talking head’ videos, think about those who rely on lip-reading. Make sure the person speaking is facing the camera and that their face is well-lit. Ask them to speak naturally, at a normal pace, and with no exaggerated facial movements. The person should also avoid covering their face and mouth with their hands or clothes. For those who use a lot of hand gestures when they speak, ask them to consciously reduce this, or avoid having them on screen; gesticulation can be a huge distraction to the person trying to lip-read. 

Image from Toy Galaxy using subtitles in a youtube video

Image from Toy Galaxy using subtitles in a youtube video

Incorporating subtitles is a must for any videos you upload. There are plenty of automatic captioning and free subtitling tools for you to choose from. Facebook and YouTube even offer autogenerated captions, which are useful but not always accurate; it’s therefore advised that you manually edit where necessary to ensure accuracy.  

If you plan to include background music in your video as well as speech, make sure the sounds are overlaid properly so that the speech can still be heard clearly. Bear in mind also that any organic background noise, such as traffic or other people’s conversations, will make it difficult for the hearing-impaired to hear what is being said/happening in the foreground.

You could also offer a transcript. Transcripts are helpful for people with hearing impairments; many prefer them to video, as they allow them to process the information at a slower pace.

Add your transcript as a link in the comments or your bio, or as a document/file to send via direct messaging should someone request them. 

It may take only a little bit of effort on your part to make sure everyone can access your content. The 20% of the population who have accessibility issues will not only thank you, but they may choose to buy from you - rather than your competitor who makes no allowances for the challenges they face.

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