Access to Media
The internet, television, audio, and film should be treated like a public space that guarantees access for all no matter what their disability, education level, or socioeconomic background. Harvard University’s Neiman Report says, “for journalists who want to represent readers’ interests, ensuring equal access to online content is essential.”
Alternative formats include but are not limited to: large print, braille, audio description, audio transcript, captioned video, alternative text for images, sign language, plain English and simpler language.
Best practices for access to media online is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as published by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Globally, the Zero Project outlines accessibility indicators in 120+ countries, everything from publicly available websites to TV and radio programs.
Below are guides and resources to making your media content more accessible:
Caption all video content, so deaf people or people who need to read the video content can access it. Some hearing people also use captions for a variety of access reasons.
Captioning is the most important type of access because almost 5% of the world’s population has what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “disabling hearing loss.” That is 430 million people worldwide.
In the United States, only about 1% of people with hearing loss know American Sign Language, so captioning makes video content the most accessible for the largest number of people.
Finally, many of the auto-generated captions on YouTube are incorrect, so it is good practice to have an accurate transcript of the video for full access.
“Audio Description (AD) provides narration of the visual elements— action, costumes, settings, and the like—of theater, television/film, museums exhibitions, and other events. The technique allows patrons who are blind or have low-vision the opportunity to experience arts events more completely—the visual is made verbal,” according to Joel Snyder, one the first U.S. audio describers, in his article, “The fundamentals of audio description.”
If your website has a video on it, it should be audio described so that your blind and low vision audience has access to it.
If you produce broadcast entertainment television or streaming entertainment videos in the United States, you are now required by law to audio describe some of your content. “In October 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into effect, requiring that modern communications technologies be made accessible to all people regardless of vision and hearing loss,” according to the accessibility company, 3PlayMedia. The Federal Communications Commission regulations about audio description can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/audio-description
American Rick Boggs, who is blind and executive director of The Accessible Planet, explains how to do audio description in this video.
The International Documentary Association discusses “5 things to consider when adding audio description and captioning to your documentary film” in a 2020 conference that emphasized making documentaries more accessible.
Alternative text on images on a website allows a person using a screen reader for blind or low vision people to know the content of the image, according to Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM). If there is not alt text, the screen reader says, “image” and gives no information to the reader.
WebAIM says, “alternative text serves several functions:
- It is read by screen readers in place of images allowing the content and function of the image to be accessible to those with visual or certain cognitive disabilities.
- It is displayed in place of the image in browsers if the image file is not loaded or when the user has chosen not to view images.
- It provides a semantic meaning and description to images which can be read by search engines or be used to later determine the content of the image from page context alone.”
Making Infographics Accessible
Making News Websites Accessible
People with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments should have access to all information in the media, and having media content in plain language helps with that. In addition to clearer written content, images and infographics can help everyone better understand the information presented.
Harvard University’s Digital Accessibility project explains, “Plain language benefits all users, including people with cognitive disabilities, low reading literacy, and people who are encountering an unknown topic or language. For websites and web applications, people need to be able to find what they need, understand what they find, and use that to accomplish tasks.”
At the British disability organization Mencap, they work with people with intellectual disabilities and other organizations to figure out ways to make information more accessible.
Mencap says reading is difficult for many people, so it recommends multiple formats, if possible, as in images, audio, or video. When creating written text in plain language:
- Use clear and simple text (plain English) with short sentences, simple punctuation and no jargon.
- Use larger print (at least 12 point), a clear typeface and plenty of spacing.
- Use bullet points or story boxes and fact boxes to make the main points clear.
In Europe, the European Union’s EASIT project, which is open access, trains people to make text and audio-visual information easy to understand. EASIT means Easy Access for Social Inclusion Training. Instead of Plain Language, this technique is called Easy-to-Understand Language, or simply Easy Language.
Plain Language guides and articles:
Articles about ProPublica’s Plain Language Initiative in 2020 for the series, “STATE OF DENIAL, Inside Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities:”
- “The call for plain language: a Q & A with Disability Studies professor Rebecca Monteleone”
- “ProPublica experiments with ultra-accessible plain language in stories about people with disabilities”
- “Things We ❤: ProPublica’s Plain Language Reporting,”
Access to Online Video Meetings
An article from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), “Accessible Remote Work Meetings for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees,” explains how to make video meetings accessible
An article from Rooted in Rights, “Accessible Online Job Recruitment Must Be a Priority, Now and Always”
Access to In-person Meetings and Events
A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People with Disabilities from the U.S. ADA Network.
Remember to make any media you use at meetings or events accessible to people with hearing loss (captioning of videos) or people with visual impairments (descriptions of anything that is not auditory).
General Resources about Accessibility