Yahoo’s Proactive, User-Centric Approach to Web Accessibility

August 12, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: March 16, 2021


We are now well into the digital information era, so isn’t it about time we start making the internet accessible to everyone?

While government entities are working hard to legally require that public and private organizations make their web content more accessible to people with disabilities, many companies aren’t waiting around.

As more organizations begin to take a proactive approach to accessibility, we’re seeing some very impressive results from companies like Yahoo, whose efforts far exceed the minimal requirements of federal law.

The Yahoo Accessibility Team takes the job head on by helping project teams integrate accessible design into the early stages of product development. To accomplish this, they’ve opened up two accessibility labs where different teams can simply walk in and test their products to either simulate a user-experience (with technology and actual users) or evaluate their product for accessibility.

Going Above and Beyond Legal Requirements

The FCC requires that all online video content much be properly captioned if it was originally broadcast on US television, as outlined in the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Though recent case law has shown the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be interpreted to require closed captioning for online video content in the private sector, there are no laws on the books that explicitly require it for web-original programming.

Nevertheless, Yahoo adds closed captioning to most of their video content anyway. In fact, 98.5% of their captioned videos aren’t covered by FCC regulation. In terms of volume, Yahoo captioned over 200,000 minutes of video in 2015, but only 770 minutes of their video content falls under FCC requirements.

Yahoo's New Accessibility Lab in Boston, MA

Yahoo’s New Accessibility Lab in Boston, MA.

Benefiting Disabled Users

When Director of Media Accessibility, Larry Goldberg, first joined Yahoo, he noticed that a lot of viewers were complaining about captions missing from online-only video. Even though there was no legal necessity, he decided to meet these requests. He explains why, using video content from The New York Times as an example:

I was watching a lot of lists where users were complaining that the really excellent videos on The New York Times website were not captioned. Well, we happened to license those videos for streaming on Yahoo.

So, I just said to our people, “Why don’t we caption them?” It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to do. And to this day, the only place you can watch captioning on New York Times videos is on Yahoo News.

Nearly 10% of the world’s population is afflicted with at least one form of disability. With over a billion monthly active users, Yahoo recognizes the importance of considering the needs of these users in online video and in their wider product design process. As Senior Direct of Accessibility, Mike Shebanek puts it:

We want people to share the same experience with the same product– to not have to go to a separate place or get separate support or design it separately, learn something completely different.

Benefiting All Users

Just because Yahoo makes accessibility a priority in product design doesn’t mean the business is taking unnecessary measures or making the product less enjoyable for non-disabled users. In reality, it’s just the opposite.

Accessibility is an opportunity to delight all users. For example, Larry explains how adding captions to online video creates a more engaging experience for Yahoo viewers:

As is summed up in the above video, viewers of all kinds are more likely to get more out of your videos if they feature high-quality closed captions.

Considering disabled and non-disabled users benefit from Yahoo’s ongoing initiatives to caption their videos, all the while driving up engagement, it really is a win-win-win scenario.

To learn more about Yahoo’s industry-leading accessibility initiatives, watch Larry Goldberg and Mike Shebanek’s presentation below:

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