Is Your YouTube Channel Section 508 Compliant?

You may have heard about new requirements passed in January 2017, governing the accessibility of digital content. The new requirements are actually an update to existing accessibility requirements for the web and information communication technology. On January 18, 2017, the Access Board updated accessibility requirements covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Guidelines for telecommunications equipment were also refreshed to be subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. Both updates went into effect January 18, 2018.

If you’re governed by the Workforce Rehabilitation Act, Section 508 requires digitally delivered experiences to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes everything from your website to the videos you publish on YouTube. Federal agencies like public schools and some places of higher education are required to follow these regulations. If you’re creating content on behalf of a covered entity, it’s important to make sure you create that content in line with Section 508.

Publishing content is so easy that accessibility is often forgotten

It’s easy to film something and publish it without preparing it to meet accessibility standards. When you film from a smartphone, you can publish directly to YouTube with a share button. iOS devices are particularly popular for filming, and the ease with which video can be published directly from any mobile device makes it less likely to be edited to meet accessibility standards.

When you’re in college, you might be asked to record a video for a class project or the morning news. Those videos, if shown to other students, might be required to meet Section 508 standards. If you can’t caption your video, you need to provide a transcript to make it accessible.

How Section 508 applies to YouTube videos

IIntelligent Video Solutions provides a basic overview of Section 508, along with links to checklists and templates to help you assess your level of digital accessibility. They explain that Section 508 applies to all government agencies and federal sectors, encompasses all types of media including hardware and software, and requires assistive technology be used to create a comparable experience for disabled users. In general, websites and software must be usable with adaptive technology like screen readers, and easy to navigate. This applies to YouTube, Vimeo, and any other videos, regardless of where they’re being hosted.

If you’re publishing YouTube videos on behalf of an educational institute, you don’t have to worry about navigation, since YouTube is designed to meet accessibility standards. However, you do need to add captioning (open or closed) to your videos to make them compliant.

What is captioning?

Captioning is the process of converting spoken words into text that users can either read on the screen, or hear through a screen reader. Captioning also provides text-based descriptions of sounds like whistling, music, screaming, etc. These descriptions provide hearing-impaired users with a comparable experience to those who can hear the audio. 

Open vs. closed captioning

Most people refer to all captions as “closed captions” because it’s most familiar, but there are two types of captions you can add to your videos: closed captions and open captions.

Closed captions are encoded into the video file, but not the image. In other words, closed captions are a feature of the video that can be turned on or off by the user, usually with a button designated “CC” for Closed Captioning.

Open captions are encoded into the video image and merged with the image. The user can’t turn off open captions because the captions have become part of the actual video.

The benefits of captioning

The primary benefit to using open captions is the captions will be displayed no matter where or how the video is played, even if a user burns it to a DVD. Although, some non-disabled users might find it annoying when they can’t turn off the captions. When captions are present, people tend to read the screen rather than watch the video, and if the video is important, they’ll miss the details. Using closed captions gives users full control. The downside to closed captions is some users have a hard time figuring out how to turn captions on and off on some platforms. It’s easy to operate the closed caption feature on YouTube, but if you upload the same content elsewhere, some users might struggle.

Caption your videos even if you’re not bound by Section 508

Captions will make your YouTube content accessible by the 253 million people usually left out. However, using captions – open or closed – also helps non-hearing-impaired people. Captions clarify what’s being spoken when voices are muffled, audio quality is poor, and when the video is in the user’s non-primary language. With benefits for all, it just makes sense to caption your YouTube content.