How to Make Your Videos Accessible for Everyone

According to the Canadian Survey on Disability, 22% of Canadians over the age of 15 have at least one disability. This represents 6.2 million people, including those with disabilities related to sight, hearing, learning, and memory – limitations that can affect their ability to interact with video and other content on the web.

The Government of Canada and many provinces have been working on legislation in order to make this a more inclusive and barrier-free country. Ensuring that your videos are as accessible as possible by following existing guidelines is easier than you might think.

Is Accessibility a Legal Obligation?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in cooperation with organizations from around the world, with the goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.

The WCAG provides guidance on how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. This can include text, images, sounds, and video content. There are three levels of compliance within the guidelines: A, AA, and AAA (with AAA being the most accessible a website can be).

But is it legally required that organizations conform to the WCAG? The answer varies between jurisdictions and based on the type of organization.

For example, in the US, federal agencies and their contractors in the United States are required to conform with WCAG. Private businesses in the US are not required by law to comply with any specific standard like WCAG, but their websites do have to be “accessible”.

Here in Canada, the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) became law in 2019 which aims to prevent accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. Organizations under federal jurisdiction are required to comply or face a fine of up to $250,000.

Now that the Accessible Canada Act is in place, many provinces are planning in turn to enact their own accessibility legislation. Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec already have accessibility laws, and both British Columbia and Nova Scotia are working towards versions of their own.

Whether it’s required under law or not, by implementing a number of best practices you can ensure that you’re providing the best experience for your viewers which can just make good business sense.

How to Make Your Videos More Accessible

Closed Captions

When it comes to accessibility, most of us think of closed captions, and with good reason.

Captions are an easy way to increase accessibility for all viewers. This includes not only those who need captions because they are deaf or hard-of-hearing, but also for anyone who simply prefers to watch videos without sound.

It’s for this reason that we provide closed caption files with every video we make for our clients.

There are many cases where a viewer might be in an environment which is too loud or where it would be inappropriate to play a video with the volume turned up. Studies have shown that on Facebook, more than 80% of users who use captions are not hearing impaired, so clearly many of us prefer to watch videos without sound for a number of reasons when given the option.



Search engines like Google or even YouTube’s search algorithm, can’t understand the contents of your video, so they’re forced to rely on the video’s title and description. But closed captions allow a search engine to essentially read and better understand what your video is about. While the mere presence of caption files won’t necessarily make your videos rank higher, the added context ensures that a search engine can better serve your video to the right audience, based potentially on keywords mentioned within the video that you might not otherwise rank for.

Most video platforms allow you to upload closed captions in a number of languages, making it possible for you to reach a much wider audience. Providing English-language captions can also be helpful for those who might speak English as a second language.

Learn more: Open Captions vs Closed Captions

Audio Descriptions

An audio description (sometimes referred to as a ‘video description’ or ‘descriptive video’) is a voice-over that describes key visual elements of a video.

When it comes to accessibility for video, audio descriptions can be as important as closed captions, as they help people with no or low vision to imagine what’s happening in a scene when there isn’t already audio available to describe it.

So far, Wistia is the only widely-used video hosting solution that we know of that allows you to upload a separate audio description as part of its commitment to aligning with WCAG AA guidelines.

High-Contrast Colours

There are many people with visual disabilities making it difficult to perceive differences in colour content on a webpage or within a video. This is why contrast and color choices are vital to accessibility.

In WCAG 2, contrast is a measure of the difference in perceived brightness (or ‘luminance’) between two colours. Excluded from this are ‘incidental’ uses of text or images, such as those used purely as decoration. Something that is included in the requirements is any ‘user interface components’ which are controls for specific functions. In the case of video, this would include the ‘play’ button, as well as controls for things like volume and closed captions.

Both the Vimeo and Wistia video players now maintain a default colour contrast ratio which is in compliance with WCAG AA 2.1 guidelines.

Support for Screen Readers

Screen readers convert digital text into synthesized speech, empowering users to hear content that might have otherwise been presented visually, and navigate with the use of a keyboard instead of a mouse.

When it comes to video, it’s important that a video player support screen readers by providing ‘alt-text’ for the video’s thumbnail image, along with keyboard compatibility. Vimeo, Wistia, and YouTube all provide keyboard accessibility, although Wistia appears to be the only video hosting solution to provide customizable thumbnail alt-text.

Which Video Hosting Solution is Best for Accessibility?

As we’ve seen above, while most video hosting solutions support closed captions, consideration for the other accessibility elements varies considerably.

For organizations serious about accessibility, we’d recommend the Wistia video player. Their default player aligns with WCAG AA guidelines, and their in-app checklist makes video accessibility a seamless part of your workflow.

If you have any questions about accessibility and to learn more about how we help organizations to produce effective and accessible videos, contact us for a consultation.