2016 accessibility

Five Predictions about Video Accessibility for 2016

2015 was a year where we saw tremendous growth in awareness about video accessibility due to changes in the legal landscape, especially as it relates to the deaf and hard of hearing. As these trends continue into the new year, our predictions below are based on issues that were left unsolved in 2015, expected outcomes of recent changes in regulations, and increased awareness of video accessibility issues.

1. The Department of Justice Will Issue New Standards on Web & Video Accessibility

To understand this prediction we need to go into some history. Back in 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on “Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations.” This signaled the DOJ’s interest in developing more specific requirements and standards for web accessibility than what was currently described under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, including revisions issued in 2010. The DOJ collected over 400 comments, weighing issues such as whether to model new regulations on existing Section 508 guidelines, or whether it would be more appropriate to use WCAG 2 standards as a starting point. The DOJ is currently working on separate Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Titles II and III.  Both are expected to be released in 2016, after a long wait of more than five years.

We expect these proposed rules will be similar to guidelines covered under WCAG 2 AA. This would be welcome news for many who deal with accessibility, since WCAG 2 AA is fairly clear and straightforward on most web accessibility requirements. However, WCAG 2 provides very little new details about how to implement video accessibility, as we discuss below.

2. Harvard And MIT Will Settle Cases With NAD.

In an October blog post, we discussed updates about the status of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) lawsuits against Harvard and MIT. Our post explained that, early in 2015, a spokesperson from Harvard said there would be delays in reaching a settlement due to new regulations they expected to come from the DOJ in the summer. At the time, the DOJ had made no specification as to when they would actually be issuing these new regulations. As a result, government agencies issued a  Statement of Interest (SOI) in June of 2015, signed by attorneys from the Department of Education, the DOJ, the U.S. Attorney General, and United States Attorneys from the District of Massachusetts. The SOI explained that existing regulations from the ADA and Section 504 already obligate Harvard and MIT to have their online content, including videos, equally accessible to all. This SOI makes it clear that further delays from the universities in captioning their video content are not justified.  However, the SOI does not discuss any regulations related to the quality of captioning, such as the FCC guidelines on closed captioning quality for broadcasters.

Now, as we enter 2016, it is clearer that the NPRM (discussed above) regulations on web accessibility will be made public sometime this year, but it is still uncertain if those regulations will cover closed captioning and quality specifically. For Harvard and MIT, the NPRM will increase the pressure, leading them to settle the cases against them and provide quality captioning for all of their public online video content.

3. An Increasing Number of Universities Will Provide Captioning

Due to the growing awareness we saw in 2015, there will be a shift all across North America in 2016. Colleges and universities will make it standard practice to caption all publicly available videos, and will start proactively captioning videos used in classes with the highest enrollments and those with hearing accommodation requests. Quality of these captions will also increase, as organizations begin to realize that the intent of the law is to provide quality that does not discriminate.

Many disability departments at the universities are promoting accessibility as a civil right to inspire campus-wide change. People are now seeing the bigger picture and understand that accessibility is more than just a law they need to follow, it has true purpose and meaning. In 2016 we will see a lot more effort put into closed captioning as campuses realize accommodation is something they want to provide, rather than simply something that they are required to.

4. WCAG Will Clarify Captioning Quality Standards

In 2015 we saw quality standards defined by FCC. Rule 79.1 which outlined specific requirements regarding the timing, placement, completeness and accuracy of closed captioning for broadcast content. In 2016 we expect to see similar guidelines put into place for online video captioning under WCAG 2. Currently, WCAG 2 is very vague in terms of captioning quality. There is one Failure of Success Criterion that notes that captions must be complete, not omitting dialog and important sounds. However, this needs to be much more specific to be of assistance to colleges and universities when implementing closed captioning solutions for their video content. For example, some colleges are tempted to use speech recognition or crowd-sourcing solutions to caption video, in an attempt to save costs. The most common problems with these solutions is not that the captions are not “complete,” it is they have many incorrect words as substitutions (for example “you’re” instead of “your,” or more dramatically “serious” in place of “Syria”) and misspellings of important words in the dialog.

The quality and accuracy of closed captioning for educational video should be just as high as the quality of textbooks, online instructional content, and video content recorded by instructors and faculty members. Anything less could considered discrimination against those who rely on the captions for their education. We expect WCAG will move to clarify this in 2016, partially in response to the NAD lawsuits described above.

5. Use of “Described Video” Will Accelerate

Described Video is a video accommodation provided for the blind (confusingly, it is also sometimes known as “audio description” or “video description”). Just as captioned descriptions of sound are provided for the deaf, an audio description helps the blind understand what visually is happening in the video. In an audio description, a voice talent describes the essential visuals that are happening on screen so the blind are able to learn the visual context that goes along with sounds of the video. Here is an example of Described Video that shows how it enhances the experience for those who cannot see the image.

Audio descriptions can be implemented in a couple ways. The traditional way of creating audio description was to have a narrator record descriptions as a separate MP3 audio track. This was challenging and expensive; the narrator often had to speak very quickly to describe the video action in between dialog.  A more recent method is to provide a text track that is added to online video as HTML, which screen readers are then able to play back using text-to-speech. Some implementations of this will even pause the video until the description finishes playback, ensuring that that the blind listener hears both complete description and dialog. We predict that this implementation will gain traction in 2016.

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