Spotlight 8

Transcripts and Audio Descriptions

(WCAG 1.2.1, 1.2.3  & 1.2.5)

In spotlights 7-9, we look at the 9 WCAG guidelines (1.2.1 - 1.2.9) relating to making time-based media, such as audio and video content, accessible. In the previous spotlight, we covered the A and AA requirements related to using captions (WCAG 1.2.2 & 1.2.4). This week, we bring the A and AA requirements related to using transcripts and audio descriptions (WCAG 1.2.1, 1.2.3 & 1.2.5). Next week, we’ll look at all the AAA requirements related to time-based media together (WCAG 1.2.6-1.2.9).

So, in this spotlight, let’s have a look at the A and AA requirements related to transcripts and audio descriptions.

According to WCAG 1.2.1 (level A), with pre-recorded audio-only content, such as podcasts, a transcript should be provided. With videos that have no sound, but have on-screen information or non-decorative visuals, either a transcript or an audio description track should be provided. 

When it comes to providing audio description and/or a media alternative such as a transcript for videos with sound, there are different WCAG requirements depending on the conformance level. 

The level A  guideline (1.2.3) requires that for pre-recorded videos that have sound, either an audio description or a media alternative is provided. However, to conform at level AA (1.2.5), an audio description must be provided. That means that by providing an audio description, you conform at level AA, whereas if you only provide a transcript, you only conform at level A. Exceptions are videos where there are no visuals used to enhance the spoken content or where those visuals are explained in the narration. 

In general, captions, audio descriptions, and transcripts are all similar because they provide an alternative output method for the content in the video. The main difference is that captions give sighted users information about the dialogues and the sounds in the video that they need to understand the content. On the other hand, audio descriptions give non-visual users information about the visuals, such as the setting and any action in the video. This typically involves an additional voiceover layer explaining the visuals in the pauses between the existing sound. Finally, transcripts are text versions of the two combined. Transcripts should include both the necessary auditory and visual information users need to understand the content without hearing or seeing it. 

There are 3 main ways to provide audio descriptions with videos: using the video including the audio description as the default option for all users, providing a separate video or a link for the video that includes the audio description, or using a plug-in or the built-in audio description track option available in certain authoring tools. Note, however, that not all authoring or streaming tools have the last option.

For transcripts, there is no set requirement of how transcripts should be structured or provided; the main requirement is that they’re easy to find. Note though that if the video has any interaction such as taking the learner to a web page, then the transcript should also provide that functionality. 


Finally, we’d like to mention that there are additional AAA guidelines that relate to transcripts and audio descriptions. We’ll cover these in the next spotlight.


Discussion questions:

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Spotlight 7: Captions

Spotlight 9: AAA guidelines related to multimedia