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Making videos and audio accessible

When it comes to accessible video and audio content, we usually think about captions. But, there is more to it than just captioning.

Accessible video content also needs transcripts, audio descriptions, and no flashes. Not to mention, videos still need to meet contrast requirements.

And, accessible audio may only be sound, but what does it need – transcripts or captions?

In this article, we go over all this including:

Rather watch the video? Watch our Easy way to create accessible videos with audio YouTube video to learn what videos need to be accessible and a demo of an easy way to create accessible videos with audio.

What videos and audio need to be accessible

Let’s start with a quick summary of what makes video and audio accessible.


Video content needs several components to be accessible to users with vision or auditory disabilities. This includes:

  • Captions
  • Audio descriptions
  • Transcripts
  • Proper color contrast
  • No flashes


Typically, audio content just needs a transcript to be accessible to users with auditory disabilities.

Now, let’s go into detail about each of these accessibility requirements for video and audio.

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About captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions

Let’s start by going over what captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions are. Then, we’ll get clear on when to use each.


Captions, also called closed captions, are the text of the audio in a video. This includes what’s spoken, who’s speaking if it isn’t obvious, music, or noises.

One thing that makes captions different from transcripts is captions are synchronized with the visual content.

For example, in YouTube videos, captions are at the bottom of the video, and the text of the audio goes with the video as it plays. Watch an example of captions in our Inaccessible PDFs video.

YouTube video with captions.


W3C’s transcript definition splits transcripts into two categories:

  1. Basic transcripts
  2. Descriptive transcripts

Both basic and descriptive transcripts are the text of the audio, which includes what’s spoken, who’s speaking, music, and noises.

But, descriptive transcripts also include visual descriptions of the video alongside the audio’s text.

Neither basic nor descriptive transcripts are synchronized with the video or audio, so you can put the transcript or link to the transcript directly below the video or audio file.

For an example, check out W3C’s page with a video and a descriptive transcript at the bottom of it.

Audio descriptions

Audio descriptions, also called video descriptions, tell users with vision disabilities what’s happening on-screen. They have the original voice-over plus any voice-over needed to describe what’s happening on-screen.

According to W3C’s description of visual information, there are four ways to do audio descriptions. The way that is best will depend on your situation and tools.

Integrate the description into the existing script

If you can, always integrate the audio description into the existing script. You won’t need any additional files (like you would with the other ways), and it counts as your audio description because you’re saying the important information on-screen. This is the easiest option and should work for most videos.

Integrating the description works best when it’s a presentation or demo video. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of saying, “Click here and then go here,” you would say, “In the left main nav, select Websites. Next, select New Website.”
  • Instead of saying, “As you can tell by the slide, our numbers are increasing,” say, “In the first quarter we were at 20%. In this quarter we’re at 27%, so our numbers are increasing.”
  • Instead of saying, “Take a minute to review the bullets on the slide,” read the bullets out loud.

Create a separate file

All other audio description options require another file, whether it’s a timed text file, another audio file that has the audio descriptions between the existing narration, or another video file.

You can learn more about these options in W3C’s visual information guide.

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When to use captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions

Let’s start by looking at the table below. You’ll notice transcripts help everybody. Keep that in mind as we discuss video and audio content.

DisabilityCaptionsTranscriptsAudio descriptions

Our suggestions on how to make audio-only and video-only accessible for pre-recorded content are based on what meets WCAG 2.1 AA compliance.

When it comes to video and audio content, our suggestion is AA compliant (it’s actually AAA compliant) but takes accessibility one step further to help more people in a way that’s easy to do.

Audio only

If it’s only audio, like a podcast, you only need a basic transcript. Remember, the basic transcript should include who’s talking, music, noises, or any other sounds.

Video only

If it’s only video, so there is no audio to the video, you need either an audio track that is the audio description of the visuals or a written descriptive transcript that is a text description of the video.

Video and audio

Videos that include audio must have synchronized captions and an audio description. If the visuals are already described in the existing narration, that counts as the audio description.

To be clear, a descriptive transcript doesn’t replace an audio description. To be WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, the video would need an audio description.

Our suggestion

That being said, remember, we suggest integrating the audio description into your narration, so you don’t have to create a separate file for your audio description.

We also suggest creating a transcript from your captions. While this is technically WCAG 2.1 AAA, it is so helpful to everyone (like you saw above), and it’s easy to do after finishing captions. Even WebAIM suggests a transcript to be more accessible to users with auditory disabilities. Plus, users with visual disabilities sometimes prefer using a screen reader with the transcript.

Here are the steps we suggest:

  1. Create a script with the audio description part of it.
  2. Upload the video to YouTube to use their automatic captions.
  3. Edit YouTube’s automatic captions.
  4. Download the completed captions as a .vtt file.
  5. Remove the timestamps and apply any formatting like headings and paragraphs.
  6. Link or add this transcript below your video. Since your script includes the audio description, your transcript will too.

Now, your video has captions, an audio description, and a transcript.

Take a look at the W3C’s planning table for more information about video and audio content need to be accessible.

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Tips for typing captions and transcripts

Writing captions and transcripts can seem daunting when you don’t have captioning tools. But, there are ways to make the process easier. Check out these tips that could cut down your caption and transcript time:

  1. When you’re recording audio, speak clearly. In the next tip, we talk about automatic captioning. If you speak clearly, you’ll have a better automatic caption.
  2. Whether you’re using YouTube to share your video or not, you can upload the video to YouTube for automatic captions. (You don’t have to publish the video to get automatic captions.) After YouTube has done the automatic captioning, edit them to make sure they’re correct.
  3. When you’re editing the text, slow down the audio. Most media players have a playback speed option you can use to reduce the speed.

For more information on creating caption files, check out How to create an SRT file.

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Contrast and flashes in video

We’re moving on from captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions, and onto color contrast and flashes in the video. Let’s start with color contrast in video.

Color contrast in video

Just like in any other design, proper color contrast must be in videos too. This makes it so all users, but especially people with visual disabilities can see what’s being shared. If you need a refresh on color contrast guidelines, check out our Very low contrast result documentation.

Flashes in video

Certain flashes can cause photosensitive users to have a seizure. To make it so everyone can safely consume your content, either remove flashes or make sure they are below the flash threshold. W3C gives a specific flash threshold.

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How to start making videos and audio on your website accessible

If you’re ready to start making accessible videos and audio a priority on your website, here’s how you can get started:

  1. Locate all the instances of videos and audio on your website. If you’re a Pope Tech user, run an HTML or PDF detail report and configure it for only video and audio-related results. If you’re a Canvas Dashboard user, select videos in the content types widget.
  2. Determine if they have what they need to be accessible.
  3. If they aren’t accessible, determine what files are needed and assign them to someone.
  4. Make an achievable goal depending on how many files need to be fixed and share that goal with your team or office.
  5. Schedule a monthly check-in (even if it’s just you) to celebrate progress and remove blockers.
  6. Identify who regularly makes videos or audio content and make a plan with them on how to make any new video or audio content accessible going forward. Remember our steps for making accessible video and audio content.

Great! Creating a more accessible web is all about small, but consistent steps toward accessibility.

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Read more about video and audio accessibility

Key takeaways

  • To be WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, videos must have synchronized captions and some version of an audio description.
  • We suggest integrating audio descriptions into the narration, so you don’t need any additional files.
  • We also suggest including transcripts for videos (which is AAA compliant) by downloading your captions and creating a transcript from them. The transcript is so helpful to everyone, so it’s an easy way to help more people.
  • To be WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, video-only content must have either an audio track that is the audio description of the visuals or a written descriptive transcript that is a text description of the video.
  • To be WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, audio must have a transcript.
  • Captions are synchronized text of the video’s audio.
  • There are basic and descriptive transcripts. Basic transcripts are the text form of the video’s audio. Descriptive transcripts are the text and visual descriptions.
  • Audio descriptions describe the visuals of a video in the audio file.
  • Use YouTube’s automatic captions to get a head start on captions or transcripts.
  • Videos should also have proper color contrast and no flashes.

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