Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Why They Matter for Subtitling and Transcription

Henni Paulsen
Henni Paulsen
Posted in Subtitles
4 min read
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Why They Matter for Subtitling and Transcription

Discover why the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are crucial for subtitling and transcription, helping media companies ensure inclusivity and reach a wider audience. This article explains how WCAG standards support the deaf and hard-of-hearing community with high-quality, accurate subtitles. Learn how following these guidelines can improve your content’s accessibility and create a more inclusive digital experience. Written by Henni Paulsen, June 2024.

What Are The WCAG Guidelines?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been developed and overseen by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), since 1999. W3C is an organization focused on creating open standards for websites, browsers, and web-connected devices.

WCAG 1.0, introduced in 1999, provided basic recommendations for subtitles and captions. In 2008, WCAG 2.0 introduced detailed guidance for captions and audio descriptions. Ten years later, WCAG 2.1 added new standards for mobile accessibility, cognitive disabilities, and low vision.

Why Is WCAG Essential for Inclusive Web Development?

WCAG is the most widely adopted set of standards for web accessibility around the world and across industries. Many countries and organizations use these standards as a basis for their own accessibility laws and regulations. In some places, WCAG compliance is required for public sector websites and certain types of content. Even where it’s not legally required, many organizations follow WCAG to make their websites more inclusive.

Covering digital design, best practices, and content rules, WCAG is increasingly integrated into web development and content creation tools. The goal is to help creators easily produce accessible content for an inclusive web experience.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Why They Matter for Subtitling and Transcription

What Are The Core Principles of WCAG?

At the core of WCAG are four principles that apply to accessible content: it must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Perceivable Content

Perceivable content means that it should be “presented in a way that users can perceive it using one of their senses.” It also means that specific types of content, such as audio, must be accompanied by captions are provided for audio content, that video content should have audio description tracks, and that content format is not restricted to a one configuration, but rather multiple visual orientations, color contrast at a ratio of at least 4.5:1, and resizable text without loss of content or functionality.

Operable content

Operable content essentially means that any and all users can navigate a website or web-based platform. This includes interactions with the components of a web page and the user interface in an unrestricted manner, with enough time to read properly organized content and plainly labeled links, and offering the same user experience whether a mouse, a keyboard or voice commands are used. A website must also let users pause, stop, or hide content that automatically moves, blinks, or scrolls and lasts longer than five seconds.

Understandable content

Understandable content refers to more than content that can be understood as is. In this guideline, it also addresses how users understand the way the website and the user interface operate, including clearly marked areas for language choice, required user input, and navigation/menu labels.

Robust content

Robust content is a principle that addresses a site's technology infrastructure, including support for assistive technologies. For this, webpage elements must have correctly written and placed start and end tags, and user interface components that can be identified by the programs accessing it.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Why They Matter for Subtitling and Transcription

Captions and Subtitles in Accessibility

Implementing captions and multilingual subtitles is more than about ensuring equal access to information and entertainment, thereby complying with WCAG 2.1. Beyond making language access possible for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, good quality text on screen ensures that businesses can reach and engage as many people as possible with their content, regardless of setting, delivery platform, language, or hearing impairment.

For example, in educational settings, captions enable deaf and hard-of-hearing students to follow lectures and classroom discussions, or to learn new skills on their own. Providing captions and subtitles empowers users to actively participate in activities in which they would otherwise might not engage.

Inclusivity fosters a sense of belonging and enables companies to build larger, more diverse user communities, which can ultimately help businesses succeed, and while WCAG 2.1 doesn't explicitly address subtitles, it does provide recommendations that apply to their implementation.

What are the WCAG "Success Criteria"?

Success criteria for pre-recorded content, for example, considers criteria such as caption synchronization for all non-dialogue audio information to be understandable for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. The guidelines also recommend the use of labeled media alternatives (namely text, such as transcripts), and for captions to include sound effects, audio cues, and speaker identification.

A key part of compliance is also granting the user control over the caption features, such as turning them off or on, and font size and color on screen. For full compliance, though, captions should always accurately reflect all dialogue and narration, sound effects, and music cues, within the constraints of on-screen timing for readability.

Captions should also be positioned in a way that does not obscure other visual content and allows for comfortable reading and, since audio-enabled media on web content can vary in size, care should be used with font size and sharpness.

For live media, such as live streaming over the web and webinars, the guidelines recommend for captions to also be synchronized. Live caption technology continues to improve, but some challenges remain. These include inaccurately recognized words or issues in mixed language segments.

WCAG Adoption and Impact

Adoption of web accessibility guidelines goes beyond web content and any media associated with it. All web-based content should be considered as covered by these guidelines, which includes ecommerce, cloud platforms and apps, online learning, and mobile apps (whether standalone or running on a browser). It might be best to consider these the “digital information accessibility guidelines.”

The impact of WCAG implementation on an organization depends on how the guidelines are approached. As with any type of technology investment, there are hard, expensive ways and easier, more cost-effective ways to do this. An automated approach is the most cost-effective and fastest way to be compliant.

A well thought out WCAG accessibility compliance architecture and process will make it easier and cost-effective to localize all the content types listed above. Enabling captions and subtitles across all video content, for example, will make the process of adding multilingual subtitles a smooth one.

Offering multilingual subtitles can really expand your content's reach and make it accessible to a global audience. Like same-language captions, multilingual subtitles should be synchronized with the audio and visual elements to ensure a seamless viewing experience, and users should be given the option to choose languages and turn captions and subtitles on or off.

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Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Why They Matter for Subtitling and Transcription

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Henni Paulsen
Posted in Subtitles
4 min read

Discover why the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are crucial for subtitling and transcription, helping media companies ensure inclusivity and reach a wider audience. This article explains how WCAG standards support the deaf and hard-of-hearing community with high-quality, accurate subtitles. Learn how following these guidelines can improve your content’s accessibility and create a more inclusive digital experience. Written by Henni Paulsen, June 2024.