Multimedia is content that uses a combination of different content forms such as text, audio, images, animations, video and interactive content. Multimedia contrasts with media that use only rudimentary computer displays such as text-only or traditional forms of printed or hand-produced material.

Multimedia Accessibility

It is important to remember that when checking for multimedia accessibility, you need to take a step back and think about the message or information you are trying to explain, and not just fixate on the video/audio in isolation. Think about barriers: are there any barriers to a user accessing this information?

If the audio or video is designated as an alternative to web content (e.g., an audio or sign language version of a web page, for example), then the web content itself can serve as the alternative.

Where content is used, imagine interacting with that content with your eyes closed or with the sound off. Are you still able to fully understand the content? If not, then some alterations are needed.

As with all accessibility consideration, adding in multimedia accessibility features after creation can be costly. Where possible, the content should be adapted at the creation stage to include features that may benefit users who need accessibility adjustments. Where this is not possible, accessibility adjustments will have to be added post-production.

For example, when producing a video, the need for audio description can often be avoided. Having the narrator to introduce themselves verbally before they speak removes the reliance on a user having to see the on-screen titles. Additionally, having the narrator say “There are five important points. They are…” and then reading each of the points means that the visual content is being conveyed through audio and there is no need for additional audio description. Providing the information solely on screen is not enough.

Introduction to Disabilities

There are a number of users to consider when focusing on multimedia accessibility issues.

a crowd of people with disabilities

The main types of users to consider are:

  • Blind Users
  • Low Vision Users
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing Users
  • Deaf/Blind Users

Blind users

Blind users require audible alternatives to any visual content. They use screen readers that convert text content into a digital, synthetic voice to access digital material.

Screen readers cannot read captions on videos, but they can read page content and transcripts.

Low vision users

Low vision users may struggle to see video content. They can use screen magnification tools to magnify the content on the screen, but then are only able to see a small part of the screen at any one time.

They may benefit from textual and static page content to understand the information.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Deaf or Hard of Hearing users require visual content to relay any audible content. Any sounds and dialogue will be missed. Deaf users can read captions, transcripts and understanding sign language interpretation. Deaf users who also have a visual impairment may prefer a sign language interpreter over captions as they only have to visually focus on one part of the video to understand the content.

Deaf/blind users

Deaf/blind users cannot hear audible content and cannot see visual content. They will utilise a refreshable braille display to convert text content to braille to read using their fingertips.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements

Video and Audio multimedia accessibility is primarily contained within Guideline 1.1 and Guidelines 1.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

  • Guideline 1.1 Text Alternatives
    Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Guideline 1.2 Time-based Media
    Provide alternatives for time-based media

For Level A conformance:

  • A text alternative (page content or transcript) is provided for all video and audio content.
  • Unless the video/audio content is already an alternative for other content and is clearly labelled as such, the following is true:
    • Audio-only pre-recorded content, a transcript of relevant content is provided
    • Video-only pre-recorded content, a transcript or audio description of content is provided.
    • Audio/video pre-recorded content, synchronised captions are provided and
      • Either – A text alternative (page content or transcript) is provided
      • Or audio description is provided
        (if visual content is not presented in the normal audio)

For Level AA conformance:

  • Synchronised captions are provided for live media that contains audio
    (audio-only broadcasts, web casts, video conferences, etc.)
  • Audio description is provided for non-live video
    (if visual content is not presented in the normal audio)

For Level AAA conformance:

  • A sign language video is provided for media that contains audio.
  • If visual content is not presented in the normal audio and if audio description cannot be added to video due to audio timing (e.g., insufficient pauses in the audio), an alternative version of the video with pauses that allow audio description is provided.
  • A transcript is provided for pre-recorded and live media that has a video track.

Our Interpretation

Shaw Trust Accessibility Services has made the following interpretations relating to the accessibility adjustments required for multimedia content:

Interpretation 1 – When the media is already an alternative

WCAG 1.1.1 states that “All non-text content … has a text alternative”

WCAG 1.2.1, 1.2.2 and 1.2.3 (Level A) all include the caveat “except when the audio or video is a media alternative for text and is clearly labelled as such”.
WCAG 1.2.4 and 1.2.5 (Level AA) criteria DO NOT include this.

We interpret that this is just an oversight and the caveat should apply to Level A and AA criteria, therefore, if a video is already an alternative for other content, and is marked up as such, no accessibility adjustments are needed.

For example, a page describes how a car engine works, providing a detailed written explanation of the different parts and actions. An animation is also provided showing how the engine works. There is no audio to the animation. Since the text of the tutorial already provides a full explanation, the media is an alternative for the text.

Interpretation 2 – Multimedia is the only method

In contrast to Interpretation 1, where multimedia content is the sole means of conveying information, the content should be accessible to different types of user, regardless of visual or auditory impairment.

For example, if content is only presented to users via a podcast, then some form of text based alternative is also required.

If content is only presented in a diagram or animation form, then an audible or text based alternative is also required.

Interpretation 3 – Text Alternatives are required

WCAG 1.1.1 states that “All non-text content … has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose”

Therefore, a text alternative is required for all relevant video and audio content.

Interpretation 4 – Captions are required

WCAG 1.2.2 states that “Captions are provided for all pre-recorded audio content in synchronized media”, unless exempt through Interpretation 1.

Interpretation 5 – Visual Information need to be explained

Where important or relevant visual elements are used, these need to be explained in the audio track of the video. For example, if a name and job title of a speaker appear, it would be good if the person verbally introduced themselves too.

Without this, blind and low vision users may miss out on important information.

Leaving quiet pauses in video/audio content should be minimised to avoid confusion when users cannot see the content.
When producing a video, the need for audio description can often be avoided. Having the narrator to introduce themselves verbally before they speak removes the reliance on a user having to see the on-screen titles.

European Accessibility Act 2018

On 23rd September 2018, the European Accessibility Act came into force, dictating that all public sector websites and mobile applications should be made accessible by making them ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.

The following types of content are exempt from the accessibility regulations:

  • pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
  • live audio and video

You’ll need to explain in your accessibility statement that you’ve not made things like this accessible because they are exempt.