Social Video: Why Aren’t We Making It Accessible to Blind People?

February 9, 2018 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: June 3, 2019

Social media platforms still have a long way to go as far as accessibility is concerned.

Facebook is the only social network that even allows closed captions (Twitter and Instagram require open captions), and that still doesn’t guarantee publishers will add them so that deaf and hard of hearing users can understand the video.

However, when blind people encounter a video on social media there is even less accommodation available. In fact, for the most part, there’s none.

Audio description is an accommodation for blind and low vision people who want to watch a video. Its a separate, narrative audio track associated with the video that describes actions and communicates other key visual information onscreen either through a prerecorded human or synthesized voice.

Here’s an example of audio description on a video (with descritpion volume controls):

It’s starting to become pretty common to find audio description these days. You can find a growing list of movies and TV shows with audio description on Netflix and Amazon Video, while Brightcove just became the first enterprise-level online video player to allow audio description tracks. And it’s already possible to publish videos with audio descritpion regardless of which player you’re using.

We’re almost there when it comes to making social media videos accessible to deaf people. So why can’t we do the same for the blind?

The Rise of Silent (or at least, Muted) Video

These days, a growing majority of people are watching videos on social media without the sound on (85% of videos on Facebook are viewed without sound). More recently, this has driven social platforms like Facebook and Instagram to disable sound on videos by default unless the user goes out of their way to enable audio.

As a result, more and more media companies, marketers, and advertisers are publishing videos without sound and relying more on text and visuals to grab the viewer’s attention. But, how can we grab the attention of all viewers — including blind people — if we provide visual but no auditory information?

Here’s an example of a video found on twitter that relies almost exclusively on visuals (text) to communicate information to the viewer:

While this video about the US Olympic hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the famous “Miracle on Ice” game contains background music and a short excerpt of speech from sportscaster Al Michaels, the overlayed text throughout the video is the publisher’s intended method of communicating information.

If you are a blind user, this video is utterly incomprehensible without the auxiliary aid of an audio track reading the text aloud.

Here’s an example of a video (from Instagram) that relies exclusively on visual information:

It's Vegan Week on @tastyvegetarian. Follow them for yummy vegan and vegetarian recipes 🎉

A post shared by Tasty (@buzzfeedtasty) on

If you are a blind user, the music is the only thing you would experience while watching this video.

At the very least, adding the recipe for these delicious vegan cinnamon rolls under the video would give blind viewers something to work with!

So, without further ado, here it is:

Combine the following mixture in a large bowl. Let mixture rise 5 minutes.

  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar (use organic to ensure it’s vegan)
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast

Add 5 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and mix well together. Cover with a towel for one hour.

Sprinkle dough with 1/2 cup flour and, using a wooden spoon, scoop sides to form a large ball. Sprinkle counter with more flour, knead ball with hands, and use a roller to flatten the dough. Spread 3/4 cup of vegan butter, and then sprinkle 1 cup of brown sugar over the dough, followed by 2 tablespoons of cinnamon. Gently roll the dough into a tube and cut into rolls about an inch apart. Arrange on a baking tray, cover with saran wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 180 degrees Celcius) for 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Silent Videos Exclude Blind People and We Need to Address It

This is the problem: the current trend in videos that are designed to autoplay without sound is pervasive and extremely exclusionary to blind people. While it’s a great accommodation for people with hearing loss and works for grabbing viewer attention, it’s it relies almost entirely on visuals and is therefor inaccessible to blind people.

We can do better.

We need to be pushing for more inclusion and accessibility — for both blind and deaf people — when it comes to social media and the web in general.

It’s both up to the social media platforms to enable audio description on their video players and the video publishers to create separate audio tracks for blind people.

There are an estimated 253 million visually impaired people worldwide and it is estimated that there are more than 10 million blind people in the United States alone.

Over the next 30 years, that number is expected to double.

So, when we think about how much of our lives we spend using social media, coupled with the unprecedented propagation of video content across the internet as a means of disseminating important information, ideas, and art to the masses, shouldn’t we be ensuring we’re making this medium of communication accessible to such a large population of people who cannot see?


You’re just a few clicks away from making your videos accessible. Get started today with 3Play Media’s audio description services!

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