ADA Compliance for Videos: The Ultimate Guide for 2024

Web Accessibility Knowledgebase

When you showcase videos on your website, you need to make sure they can be accessed by everyone, including members of the disability community. Click here to learn what you need to do to ensure your online videos can be enjoyed and understood by people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

accessiBe Team

The information presented within this guide is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

Videos have become a staple of modern marketing stacks.

Research revealed that a whopping 91% of businesses used videos as part of their marketing campaigns in 2023.

This should come as no surprise. 

Videos are dynamic and more easy-to-consume than text. By using them, businesses can effectively communicate their offerings and services in a way that resonates strongly with potential customers.

However, if presented in their traditional, basic form, videos are virtually inaccessible to a considerable part of the population:

People with disabilities.

An estimated 11.5 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, and almost 12 million Americans aged 40 and older have some form of vision impairment

For these people to properly engage with them, videos need to be adjusted and formatted to fit their unique needs. 

Fortunately, ensuring that videos become accessible to all viewers can be done by following a number of defined steps. And, while these steps can, and should be taken by all organizations, many businesses are mandated by law to ensure that their videos are accessible, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In this blog, we'll explore what ADA compliance for videos means and show why it is so essential. We'll highlight the key elements of a video you will need to address so that it can be accessed by people with certain disabilities, and provide an example of a video that conforms to prominent web accessibility standards.

ADA compliance for videos: An overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a seminal piece of legislation protecting people with disabilities from discrimination when seeking employment, and when attempting to access goods and services. 

Under ADA Title III, businesses and organizations considered “public accommodations” must make their services and products accessible to people with disabilities. These include, but aren’t limited to, hospitals, colleges, hotels, real estate agencies, museums, restaurants, banks, and many small businesses

Effectively, however, most places of business sell products and services to the public. Therefore, almost all businesses must comply with the ADA.

Today, U.S. courts apply the ADA to businesses' online domains, as well as to their physical spaces. This means that websites must be accessible to the disability community, under the ADA. To fully comply with the law, businesses must ensure that all elements appearing on their website, including videos, are accessible to every type of viewer or user.

WCAG and videos

While nothing is codified into law, U.S. courts frequently reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standards websites should meet to be considered ADA-compliant. Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is a global standard for making digital content (including videos) accessible to people with disabilities. 

It's worth mentioning that businesses can conform to a number of WCAG versions.

U.S. courts typically refer to WCAG 2.0 Level AA (i.e., an older version of these guidelines) as the standard websites should meet in ADA website compliance lawsuits. However, to truly mitigate the chances of facing legal recourse, businesses should conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA (i.e., the most up-to-date version of WCAG).

Both WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 apply to all areas of a website, including videos and other online media. 

In general, to conform with WCAG, videos will incorporate the following elements:

  • Closed captions
  • Audio descriptions
  • Descriptive transcripts
  • They will be showcased using a video player that can be operated via a keyboard 

We'll cover these in greater depth in the following sections.

It's important to note that WCAG applies to a variety of web-based applications beyond just video. These include online documents, such as PDF files, and email.

To achieve ADA compliance, you will need to ensure these assets conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA, as well. We recommend you check out our ADA website compliance checklist for a comprehensive list of action items you will need to address to achieve compliance. 

ADA compliance for videos: a deep dive

Certain viewers may find it challenging or downright impossible to access videos if they are presented in their basic form. For example, people with hearing impairments may lack access to critical information without captioning, while people with vision impairments may have trouble comprehending information relayed within a video if it lacks audio descriptions.

Additionally, certain disabilities prevent people from actually playing a video. People with motor disabilities cannot always operate a video using a mouse (or even a keyboard, for that matter).  

To comply with the ADA and ensure everyone can access your videos, regardless of ability, you will need to ensure that they adhere to the sections of WCAG that apply to videos. This will entail addressing the following action items:

Choosing an accessible video player

Choosing the right video player will allow website visitors, of all kinds, to properly access your videos. To that end, an accessible video player is one that you can adjust and add accessibility features to (we will detail those in a moment).

YouTube is by far the most popular video platform in the world, and many website owners rely on YouTube video player embeds to present videos on their websites. However, it’s critical to note that YouTube videos aren't fully-accessible by default. While YouTube offers automated captioning tools, these aren't always accurate and may not be sufficient if you want to achieve ADA compliance. 

Providing captioning

Captions are text versions of the audio in the video that help people digest the information conveyed. Here are a few things to be mindful of when providing video captions:

  • Accuracy is key: even small errors can drastically change your content's meaning
  • Closed captions should account for all spoken dialog and should also reflect non-speech information, such as meaningful sounds and sound effects. 
  • Sync captions to the audio so they appear on the screen at the same time as the corresponding audio

YouTube has a handy feature that automatically generates captions for videos using speech recognition technology. Here's how to activate it:

  1. Select your account and go to Video Manager
  2. Head to the Creator Studio > Video Manager > Videos
  3. Click on the drop-down menu next to the "Edit" button
  4. Select the video you wish to add captions to
  5. Hit "Subtitles/CC" and then "Add New Subtitles or CC"

YouTube generally does a decent job at identifying all elements and adding them as captions. However, YouTube-generated captions aren’t always fully-accurate. Before hitting "Publish", make sure to review the captions and ensure they include non-verbal information, such as music cues and other meaningful sounds.

Providing audio description

Audio description is a spoken narration that provides information and context about visual elements in a video. People with low vision may struggle to fully access video content without it. When adding audio descriptions to your video, consider visual elements such as:

  • Actions
  • Costumes
  • Settings
  • Scene changes

These will need to be properly-addressed in audio descriptions. 

Clear narration is another critical component of ADA-compliant videos because it empowers all viewers to comprehend what is going on. You can follow these simple steps to create audio descriptions for your videos:

  1. Watch the video and take notes on what is happening on the screen
  2. Write a script for the audio description using your notes as a guide. Describe the visual elements of the video in detail, including the characters, setting, and any important visual details
  3. Record the audio description using a microphone and audio recording software. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace, pausing when necessary
  4. Sync the audio description with the video using video editing software. Make sure to insert each recorded description when there are natural pauses in the dialogue. If the pauses are too short, you will need to create another version of the video where specific sequences are paused to make room for longer descriptions. This is called extended audio description
  5. Test the audio description and make adjustments as necessary
  6. Once everything is accurate, share the video with your audience 

Ensuring keyboard accessibility

According to WCAG, videos must be controllable using keyboard commands. Keyboard accessibility is critical for people with motor impairments, as the latter may not be able to use a mouse to activate a video and navigate a website.  

To make a video keyboard accessible, consider all of its interactive elements. Viewers should be able to play, pause, control volume, and navigate different parts of the video by pressing the Tab, Shift + Tab, Space, Enter and the up, down, left, and right keys on a keyboard.

Here are a few action items you may want to address in that regard:

  1. Check your video's keyboard accessibility by navigating through it using the Tab key and Shift + Tab key combination, as well as the arrow keys to navigate through drop-down menus
  2. Provide a way for viewers to jump between content blocks and controls
  3. Ensure the tab order goes in a left-to-right fashion, resembling a logical reading order
  4. Make sure each element's focus is clearly visible when a visitor tabs through
  5. Use an accessible video player that enables keyboard support and allows people to control features like volume, enabling closed captions, or fast-forwarding

ADA compliance for videos: going the extra mile

Ensuring your videos conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA will provide people with disabilities with proper access to them (and will likely protect you from facing legal recourse for inaccessibility).

However, conforming to WCAG 2.1 Level AAA can provide the ultimate video experience for people with disabilities. 

It’s important to note that reaching WCAG 2.1 Level AAA conformance isn't feasible for every business. However, it may be a worthwhile investment for those wanting to reach a higher level of video accessibility.

Relevant WCAG 2.1 Level AAA success criteria include:

  • Providing sign language interpretation
    Providing sign language interpretation helps people who are hard of hearing access information and understand what's happening in the video
  • Providing extended audio descriptions
    If the pauses in the dialogue featured in the video are too short for standard audio description, another version will need to be created in which the video itself pauses to make room for extended descriptions of the dialogue
  • Providing media alternatives for people with both low vision and hearing impairments
    For people whose vision is limited to a degree that prevents them from reading captions, and whose hearing is too limited to hear dialogue and audio descriptions, a detailed text media alternative should be provided. The alternative description should include all visual information, actions, expressions, and non-speech sounds included in the video, along with transcription of all the featured dialogue

Implementing all or some of these action items will showcase a deep commitment to inclusivity and equality, one that will likely not be lost on the disability community and your consumer base, in general.

The importance of ADA video compliance

Allowing for everyone to access your videos, along with your website and other digital assets, is critical from an ethical perspective. Unfortunately, all too often, people with disabilities still find themselves unable to properly engage with online videos. A significant number of videos are completely inaccessible if they are stripped of captions and/or audio. If the web is to become an equal and inclusive space, this must change.

It’s worth noting that accessible videos can be accessed and enjoyed by a significantly larger audience. The latter can include many more prospects and potential customers that would otherwise have no way of engaging with your brand via video.

Additionally, when your video marketing strategy is in conformance with WCAG, you benefit viewers outside the disability community.

Adding captions allows people to properly understand your video when they watch it on mute (which is common practice, especially among younger audiences).

Finally, certain measures taken to ensure a video is accessible, such as adding captions and transcripts, will see you maximizing its searchability potential, which can lead to considerable improvements in search engine rankings.

The legal consequences of having non-compliant videos

When your videos aren’t accessible, you discriminate against the disability community, presenting its members with digital barriers that others do not face. This can bring about significant negative consequences, including facing legal action. Businesses may receive an ADA website compliance demand letter and potentially face an ADA website compliance lawsuit.

Additionally, having non-accessible videos (and non-accessible websites, for that matter) can hurt your brand's reputation. In today's socially conscious environment, people expect businesses and organizations to accommodate the disability community. Not meeting these expectations can lead to negative publicity.

How to test your videos for accessibility

Testing your videos for accessibility is a fundamental step in ensuring everyone can enjoy them. 

The testing process itself entails examining your videos’ level of conformance to the sections of WCAG that apply to videos. This includes, but isn’t limited to, ensuring that accurate captions and transcripts have been added and that an audio description has been provided, and that videos can be operated via keyboard.

It’s important to note that testing whether videos are ADA-compliant is a manual endeavor that can prove time-consuming and challenging for those with little knowledge of WCAG.

Many businesses and organizations choose to outsource video testing and remediation projects, especially if they have a lot of video content. Typically, they turn to expert service providers, like accessServices, to ensure their videos fully conform to WCAG. With a comprehensive understanding of the sections of WCAG that apply to videos and media, these experts can prove vital with longer, more dynamic video remediation projects. 

Click here to see how you can test your videos for accessibility with accessServices.

What does an ADA-compliant video look like?

As mentioned above, an ADA-compliant video will incorporate several elements, such as a keyboard-accessible video player, captioning, and transcripts.

But what does a video like that actually look like?

Here’s a prime example:

The video itself explains how small businesses can claim a tax credit for ADA website compliance. The graphic elements appearing within the video are completely aligned with the information being conveyed by the presenter, and those who cannot see them are not missing out on any information. 

Additionally, and even though YouTube provides captions with its closed captioning feature, this video still has open captions added to it. This is significant as it ensures that even when viewers see it on other platforms, they'll be able to understand the video. The captions themselves are large enough and appear in a legible font.

Breaking accessibility barriers with ADA-compliant videos

As video continues to prove immensely popular among consumers, business owners need to ensure that the videos they create and feature can be accessed by all viewers, regardless of ability. 

When your videos are in compliance with the ADA, you do your part in breaking accessibility barriers and creating a more welcoming digital space.

Adding captions and descriptive audio, ensuring videos can be played via keyboard, and addressing other important elements, will allow people with disabilities to engage and better-understand your videos. While morally imperative and worthy of pursuit regardless, doing this will expand your potential consumer base and potentially lead to positive business results.