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ATD Blog

Next Stop, Section 508: Navigating Video Accessibility Laws

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

In 2019 the number of web accessibility lawsuits reached a rate of one every working hour. Digital accessibility has become a hot topic with many buzzwords circling around. People tend to be familiar with becoming 508-compliant, WCAG 2.0 guidelines, or the number of recent ADA lawsuits. But what does all of this mean?

This blog post breaks down accessibility laws to clear up the compliance confusion and help you understand how to make your talent development videos accessible to everyone.

All the Buzz (Words)

In order to understand the legal requirements around training videos, it’s important to understand all the terms and laws that are buzzing around.

Section 508 Compliance
While Section 508 only directly applies to federal organizations, its impact is much farther reaching. Section 508 is extended to any company that conducts business with a federal agency, including private contractors, the financial industry, healthcare, many legal organizations, and others, and may also be extended to universities (including private universities) that receive funding through grants.

Additionally, many individual organizations and states have enacted their own mini 508 laws, based off of Section 508 requirements.

WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1
WCAG 2.0 was included in the revised section 508 to help universalize and standardize accessibility initiatives in the United States.

Lawmakers found the old section 508 did not harmonize with international standards. The lawmakers saw the effect and influence it had in Canada and the European Union and realized it could have a positive effect in the United States as well. WCAG 2.0 also helped address gaps in the former version of section 508, such as ambiguous language and the fact that it was untestable.

It should be noted that while WCAG 2.0 is what’s referenced, WCAG 2.1 guidelines are the updated guidelines for accessibility.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires private companies to caption their content. This includes public-facing videos, training videos, video tutorials, and videos used for internal communications. Company training videos must be accessible as required under Title I and Title II of the ADA.


Accessible Talent Development Videos

So, what does all of this have to do with talent development and training videos? With a growing number of accessibility-related lawsuits it’s critical for organizations to understand how to navigate their requirements.

Under a number of laws, employers are required to provide certain accommodations to their employers. This means, your talent development videos need to be accessible.

If your organization meets the following requirements, you must comply with Section 508:

  • You do business with a federal agency or an organization that receives federal funding.
  • Your state has its own mini 508.
  • Your organization has its own mini 508.

If you don’t meet these requirements, you’re not off the hook. You may be required to comply with other federal laws, such as the ADA to provide certain accommodations to your employees.

FedEx Lawsuit

FedEx Ground experienced a lawsuit for failing to provide “effective accommodations” for deaf employees. Company training videos must be accessible as required under Title I and Title II of the ADA.

The lawsuit claimed that, despite FedEx’s long standing knowledge of employing a significant number of deaf and hard-of-hearing workers, FedEx Ground failed to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or closed-captioned training videos in the following situations:

  • mandatory initial tour of the facilities
  • new-hire orientation for applicants
  • staff meetings
  • performance meetings
  • safety meetings.

“FedEx Ground should have provided effective accommodations to enable people with hearing difficulties to obtain workplace information that is disseminated in meetings and in training sessions.”


How to Get Compliant

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret. We have you covered. There are a few things you’ll need to get started making your videos accessible:

  • closed captioning
  • audio description
  • accessible player.

Closed Captioning
Captions are time-synchronized text that can be read while watching a video. When captions are available on a video it’s usually noted with a CC icon. Captions assume the viewer can’t hear, so they include relevant non-speech elements like sound effects and speaker identifications to make it easier for the viewer to understand what is going on.

Audio Description
Audio description (sometimes called “description” or “video description”) is an audio track that narrates the visual elements in media content.

Audio description is an accommodation for blind and low-vision individuals and is meant to provide information on those visual components that are essential to the comprehension of the program.

The description of media involves the interspersion of audio description snippets within the program’s original audio components. This is to allow the individual the benefit of the description, without sacrificing the information in the existing content.

Accessible Video Player
In addition to creating video content with accessible tools such as captions and audio description, it’s critical to use an accessible video player that allows these tools to function properly, and that is keyboard and screen reader accessible.

3Play Plugin
There are only a handful of accessible video players. If your organization isn’t using one of these, 3Play Media’s 3Play plugin may be just what you need. This plugin is a free tool that allows publishers to create a fully interactive and accessible video experience for viewers, even when using videos they don’t own.

The 3Play Plugin is customizable and compatible with most video players and publishing platforms, including LMS systems. It enables users to add captions, interactive transcripts, audio description, and SEO to videos they don’t own and to video players that otherwise don’t support these features.

Editor's Note: This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

About the Author

Elisa Edelberg is a content marketing manager at 3Play Media, a full-service video accessibility solution that delivers on quality, turnaround, and support. She creates and produces educational content related to web and video accessibility. You can find her blogs, whitepapers, and webcasts online or see her present at accessibility-focused conferences around the country. Her passion for making the world a more accessible and equal place inspires her to continue working on projects such as Faces Behind the Screen, which showcases the experiences of those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and low vision. Outside the office, you may find her begging to pet strangers’ dogs on the Boston Common or puzzling over a DIY home improvement project.

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