Word Wizards is continuing our coverage of The United States Access Board’s 508 refresh. These rules and standards set the accessibility compliance requirements for electronic publications procured by the federal government, including web sites, video assets, and mixed media productions. For video assets, the current 508 compliant standard for accessibility requires closed captioning, and audible description for persons with visual disabilities. During the 508 refresh we hope to add a third option to enable more video assets to meet 508 standards without adding undue burden to agencies and applicable vendors. Before we address our alternative we have provided a brief overview of CC and AD requirements for 508.
The guidelines for Closed Captioning to achieve 508 compliance are clear and straightforward. All information conveyed in audio format must be provided in the captions. When speakers are off screen or multiple parties are present, clear distinction must be made in the text. The captions must not obscure faces or cover on-screen text. Each caption must appear in sync with the audio of the video, so that persons with auditory disabilities can get the full experience of the media. Closed captions are required for all video material subject to section 508 regulations.
When required, audible descriptive material must be added to video content to convey visual information to non-sighted users. The process involves taking the original media and recording additional audio content to provide access to information for person’s with visual disabilities. For entertainment purposes, the audible description track must be mixed in between pauses in the relevant audio of the video. For more flexible video content, the video can be paused to include longer explanations of visual material. Audible description is not currently required for all video content, but the 508 refresh plans to increase the amount of AD required by law.
508 Accessible Transcript – An Alternative
Word Wizards has developed an alternative to provide media accessibility for both deaf and blind users. We can produce a transcript in accessible PDF format that conveys audible and visual material. All spoken material and relevant sounds are captured in a standard transcript. We then add specific verbal descriptions of the visual content within the text. We then remediate the document for 508 compliance, allowing it to be fully functional with standard screen reading technology. In this final form, a deaf user can read the auditory information, and a blind user can use a screen reader. Thus we satisfy both aspects of compliance for videos, in one self-contained asset.
The New Game in Town
The 508 accessible transcript is a relatively unknown deliverable, but is included in the WCAG 2.0 regulations being used as the framework for the 508 refresh. Word Wizards has submitted public comments that review the merits of “Media Alternative (Prerecorded)”, as it is known in WCAG 2.0. 508 transcripts can be produced for a fraction of the cost of captioning and audio description. Instead of weeks, it can be done in days, cutting production timelines in half, while saving substantial financial resources. While it may never replace closed captions and audible descriptions as the gold standard, it enables agencies and content providers a faster and more affordable way of providing access for media assets.