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Webinar Series: Why Caption, and Why Make Your Video Accessible?

By: Art Morgan
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In this webinar we discuss video accessibility benefits, including why you should caption your videos and why other aspects of video accessibility such as audio description are important.

Annotated Video Transcript

>> Hello, this is Art Morgan, with Automatic Sync Technologies. The topic for today’s webinar is why to caption, and why you should make your video accessible.

On this initial slide we have our company logo. CaptionSync is the name of our services, and Automatic Sync Technologies is the name of the company. We started about 14 years ago with a grant from the Department of Education, and we’ve been focusing ever since on making it easy and affordable for educators to make their video content accessible.

For those of you who are curious about the icon that’s part of the logo, that represents an audio waveform on a video screen. Initially our work centered around transforming audio to text, for transcripts and captions. More recently we added audio description services, which is essentially transforming visual information in a video into audio, so interestingly the icon applies equally well to that new aspect of our work.

I’ll be presenting for the next 15 to 20 minutes, and then we’ll open it up for questions. Dr. Kevin Erler, one of our founders will also participate in the Q and A. I’m showing photos of each of us here, and our emails in case you want to follow up with us later., and

The objectives of this webinar are to cover both the more obvious reasons to make your video accessible, such as compliance with relevant statutes, as well as some of the less obvious benefits of transcription, captioning, and other aspects of video accessibility.

First some background on legislation. In the U.S., the main two federal laws that relate to video accessibility, particularly for higher education, are the Rehabilitation Act, which was enacted in 1973 and amended in 1998, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008. The Rehabilitation Act contains sections called Section 508 and Section 504, which you’ll often hear referred to when people talk about accessibility law.

Equally important for educators are Title II and Title III of the ADA. Title II essentially applies to state and local government entities including state colleges and universities, and Title III applies to private entities that are considered places of public accommodation. But they both cover basically the same rules and guidelines.

I’m showing on this slide a graphic created by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, which was in 2015. The tagline is “advancing equal access.” The DOJ is one of the main agencies responsible for enforcing the ADA.

There have been literally thousands of complaints, lawsuits, and settlements related to accessibility since these two laws went into effect, but I’ll highlight just a few of those related to higher education and video accessibility in particular.

North Carolina State University was the subject of an Office of Civil Rights complaint and investigation in 2000, about 18 years ago. I mention this one because it was of the first cases for disability civil rights in higher ed, and it really transformed the university. Today NC State has an impressive equity and diversity program that promotes equal access to high quality education, and most people don’t realize that many of the policies and best practices that NC State has pioneered started as the result of a resolution agreement with the OCR almost 20 years ago.

Target is obviously not in higher education, but this case was significant and relevant to online education because it affirmed that the courts see an organization’s website as a place of public accommodation, and as such that means that accessibility rules that apply to physical brick and mortar locations also apply to your websites. This was a case brought by the National Federation of the Blind in 2006, and later settled after the judge in the case found that both the ADA and state laws did apply to Target’s websites.

Extending that argument from the web in general to video streaming services, between 2011 and 2016 Netflix, iTunes and Hulu all had cases brought against them related to lack of captioning on their online videos, and they all settled and agreed to provide captioning on all of their video catalog. The National Association of the Deaf, or NAD, was the lead advocacy organization for the plaintiffs in these cases.

In 2015, NAD turned their attention to higher education, and sued both Harvard and MIT for lack of accurate captioning on much of their public video content. Two interesting points about these cases. First, the documents filed by the NAD pointed out that many of the Harvard and MIT videos did have captions but they were of very poor quality. The OCR and the DOJ both weighed in on the cases with a statement of interest letter, and they agreed with NAD that poor quality captioning does not constitute equally effective communication, and is thus a violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Second, Harvard and MIT moved to dismiss the cases, on the grounds that the DOJ hadn’t issued updated web accessibility guidelines in many years. The courts disagreed, and ruled that the case had merit, even without recent web accessibility guidelines. I’ll say a little bit more about why that’s relevant on the next slide.

The U.C. Berkeley case was a Department of Justice investigation of Berkeley’s online public courses and public video library. The DOJ issued a letter of findings and conclusions in 2016, which among other things cited the lack of captions and audio descriptions on their videos. Interestingly, Berkeley decided to take down most of the content that was covered in the investigation rather than make it accessible, citing cost concerns. This was disappointing for a lot of people in the advocacy realm, but it illustrates an important point. You have a choice whenever you create content and decide to make it publicly available. The argument that the content is free, or that it’s benefitting a large number of people even if it’s not totally accessible, doesn’t go over well with the DOJ and the OCR. Also, if Berkeley had budgeted for accessibility, and built it into the cost of creating and distributing the content, it wouldn’t have been such a significant incremental investment. At a minimum, it would have forced them to prioritize what content was really worth creating and worth making public.

We have links on this slide to articles about the Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley cases, if you’re interested in the details.

I also have the logo of the Department of Education on this slide, which is the agency that kicked this all off at NC State. The OCR, or Office of Civil Rights, is part of the Department of Education.

Now as I mentioned earlier, the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act were enacted a long time ago, pre-dating most web-based technologies. And even with amendments as recently at 2008, the language in the laws doesn’t always keep pace with technology. We can rely to some extent on settlements and court cases, but really it’s best if there are written guidelines and standards that we can follow.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice has declined to update their web accessibility guidelines, but fortunately there are some de facto standards from international standards bodies like the W3C that have been filling the void. The W3C has working groups that create and update a set of guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are commonly known as WCAG 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 has three levels of compliance, and increasingly the middle level, called Level AA, is the de facto standard for higher education and government entities. When the Access Board issued a refresh of Section 508 standards last year they modeled it on WCAG 2.0 Level AA, and many OCR and DOJ settlements and guidance letters, as well as state standards and legislation, reference WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

In interest of time we won’t go into the details of the WCAG success criteria – 1.2.2, 1.2.4, and 1.2.5 are the most relevant to video – but we’re happy to answer any questions on how WCAG 2.0 applies to video and video players, and we have some links in the Resources section to sites with more details.

So, hopefully that legal background wasn’t too stressful or mind-numbing for you, but in any case I’d like to end this section on a positive note.

Keep in mind that disability rights legislation has historically been very bipartisan. This not a Democrat or Republican thing. Also, accessibility awareness is growing rapidly, both in the general public and on the part of students and learners.

Next, if there has been any drop-off in enforcement on the part of agencies like the DOJ, advocacy organizations like the NAD and NFB are stepping in to fill the void. And to be honest, I haven’t seen any slowdown on the part of the Department of Ed’s OCR. They now have roughly 2200 open disability-related cases.

Finally, even if you are not on the OCR list, it’s good for your organization to push forward on meeting these guidelines, both from a public relations standpoint, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Now let’s shift gears and talk about some of the hidden benefits of video accessibility. Sometimes these factors are what help you “sell” your department leaders on why you should spend some time and money on video accessibility.

The first benefit is improved comprehension when watching videos with good captions. We have another slide with details on that in a moment.

The second benefit is improved indexing and search. If you’ve captioned and described your videos, your content becomes more discoverable, and it’s easier for both students and faculty to find specific content that they want to review or use in classes.

The third hidden benefit is viewer flexibility. If I’m on the bus or train, or in a noisy location, I can still watch a video and fully grasp the content if it has captions. Similarly, if I’m going for a run or a hike, sometimes I like to listen to courses with audio only. If the videos are fully described, I can still follow along with just audio, without looking at a screen.

The next benefit is improved accessibility for English as a Second Language viewers. Many people who are learning English understand the written content in captions better than the audio. And in fact, this is often true even for people who are very fluent in English. There are often words in a video that you can’t quite make out from the audio track alone, especially if there are accents, jargon, or new technical terms involved.

And this brings me to the last point on this slide, which is that providing captions and descriptions and other enhancements that are typically considered accessibility elements leverages the principles of Universal Design for Learning by providing additional representations of the content, and additional ways to interact with the content.

I mentioned the potential for improved comprehension with captioned video on the last slide, and I’ll point out a couple of studies that highlight this point.

The first is a study that was done at Northern Illinois University, by Dr. Bryan Dallas and his colleagues. They did an experiment with a large lecture class at the university with two sections of the class, both with similar demographics. They had one section of the class watch a 15-minute TED Talk with captions, and the other section watched the same video without captions. Both sections then took a carefully-designed quiz after watching, to assess their understanding of the video. You’ve probably guessed which group performed better on the quiz; the group that watched with captions did significantly better than those who had no captions. And this was a video with high-quality audio, and there were no students with hearing accommodations in either group.

The second study is one that Kevin did here at AST several years ago. This research showed how important the quality of the captions is to comprehension. In this experiment people reviewed documents with different error rates, ranging from zero percent to 20% error rate, and rated the intelligibility of the documents on a scale from zero to 10. Somewhat surprisingly, even small error rates of two to three percent affected intelligibility significantly, and error rates of four or five percent made the document almost unintelligible.

This highlights the point that poor quality captioning, such as machine-generated captions or captions created using hybrid or crowd-sourcing techniques, can be in many ways be worse than no captions at all. The point is that if you’re going to provide captioning, you need to be all-in and do it with top quality. Anything less is a disservice to your viewers and learners, and is essentially a waste of time and resources.

On this slide by the way we have a photo of light bulbs, to emphasize the point that making video accessible is largely about making it easier to understand.

Finally, we want to show an example of the CaptionSync Smart Player, to tie together all of these benefits of video accessibility that we’ve been talking about.

I’m showing a screenshot of the CaptionSync Smart Player, and I’ll talk through the different components. There’s a video pane, and in this case the video is paused and showing an illustration of molecules floating above an exoplanet. Under the video pane are the closed captions. Next there are accessible controls for the player, with appropriate color contrast and ARIA labels to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. In addition to the typical video player controls there are features like playback speed controls, and a button that allows you to clip and share a portion of the video.

On the right side there is a transcript pane, which allows users to search for terms in the video, and jump to a particular spot. In this case audio description is turned on, so the transcript pane shows both captions and descriptions interleaved. The descriptions are also played via text-to-speech for blind users. But as with captions, you can also imagine scenarios where sighted users benefit from the descriptions, helping them better understand the visual content of the video.

So, as you can tell, video accessibility is not just about providing accommodations. If you do it right, you’re really making your video content more understandable and more useful and flexible to pretty much everyone.

That’s the content we wanted to cover today. On this last slide we have a few resource links for you, and they’re included in the blog post as well. The image here is of two hands typing on a mobile phone, highlighting the point that these resources are just a few clicks, or keystrokes, away.

Thanks for joining us, and we are happy to answer any questions that you might have.