The negative impact of stylised captions on TikTok and Instagram
It used to be that there was not enough captioned content on social media. People were posting videos but not captioning them, either because it wasn’t possible on the platform at the time or because they couldn’t be bothered.
Auto captioning has become more and more popular, and it’s now quite simple to enable closed captions on your social media videos. As Courtney Craven puts it on their LinkedIn post, the resulting accuracy of caption can be “useless”.
But another problem is how the captions are displayed: there’s an increasing trend for captions to display
Courtney touches on some of the issues with that, as does accessibility consultant, Meryl Evans. This style of caption can be really hard to follow, and detract from the video itself, as one is so focussed on trying to keep up with the text. You understand language ‘as a unit’, not as one word at a time.
I don’t think we can blame the content creators; they’ve been given a tool, and they’re using it. But social media companies need to work harder to not build inaccessibility into the tools they provide people.
I’d be interested to know what kind of impact this has on screen reader users – send me an email if you have any insights!
Monica Chin, computing reporter at The Verge, writes about the lack of accessibility content in tech magazines. She notes that most accessibility content is written by freelance journalists, or by staff journalists whose primary focus is something else.
The lack of mainstream content makes it hard for disabled consumers to know whether the latest game, mobile phone or software will work for them. “I’ll often have to research reviews and watch like, six or seven so I can find all the information”, says Chris Reardon.
Some journalists feel that the solution is to hire an accessibility reporter, to provide dedicated accessibility coverage, such as accessibility reviews that sit alongside standard product reviews. Others feel that every tech reporter should have accessibility in mind when writing content.
Monica also highlights the risk of perpetuating harmful tropes and stereotypes. The solution isn’t to flood magazines with stories about ‘inspirational’ disabled people (a phenomenon disabled journalists have been protesting for years).
There’s also the risk that exclusively allocating accessibility articles to disabled journalists has them become the ‘token person’ to represent specific topics. That said, journalists with a related disability should be given the first opportunity to cover an article, if they wish. John Loeffler writes “it’s one thing for me to talk about the Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit. It’s another for someone who’s like, when this review is done, I’m going to be using this on my own personal device”.
An example of where mainstream opinion differs from accessibility focussed views is the ‘touch bar’ integrated with MacBook Pros. CNET, The Verge and Engadget have all derided it as a useless piece of hardware that nobody asked for. (I happen to agree. They’re also prone to hardware failure; my sister has had no ends of issues with this aspect of her relatively new MacBook, just outside the warranty period!).
But Steven Aquino writes about how useful he finds the accessibility features of the touch bar. It makes shortcuts easier to trigger for those who lack the fine motor skills required for keyboard shortcuts. It allows the sending of emails or adding of emojis with a single tap, instead of multiple interactions.
Steven often felt in a minority, reporting on this. The mainstream sites just don’t touch on this stuff. Monica’s article is a call to action for tech reporting to do better.
For those who don’t know, Minecraft has an education edition. (I wish I had this while I was in school!).
That edition now has a new world, called BuildAbility. In partnership with America’s Peel District School Board (PDSB), it was launched on May 10th worldwide.
BuildAbility is designed to “help students understand, identify, and work to eliminate accessibility barriers in their school and community”. Students learn about physical and technological barriers, as well as organisational attitudes and communication issues. They’re then encouraged to create solutions to those problems, in an open play area, trying to create the most accessible and inclusive experience.
In the world, students will encounter physical barriers that disable wheelchair users, high noise levels in populous areas like the mall, etc. They can then rebuild parts of the world in an accessible way. Watch this brief video demonstrating the world (39s).
Ken Nakata writes a thought-provoking article about controversial accessibility overlays.
Ken was once opposed to overlays, but has come around to the idea, on the basis that they can work harmoniously with other accessibility initiatives. He concedes that the damage has already been done by inaccurate marketing of overlay companies, who falsely claim they can make websites fully accessible with a single line of code. But if we can allow overlays to mature and have these companies taper their claims, Ken envisages a future where overlays are widely used and useful.
For example, a customer might hire an accessibility consultant, who spots a WCAG violation with a tab panel on their website. The developers fix that panel, but in the meantime, an overlay is programmed to spot and fix similar matches that don’t exactly match the original. As users come across these panels in the wild, the overlay does its best to fix the issue, and also automatically notifies the developers about the bug.
Ken thinks overlays are an inevitability because:
- There is simply too much inaccessible content out there, and it won’t ever be fixed.
- Not all users are experts – more traditional assistive technology can be difficult to use.
- Technology gets better all the time.
Ken finishes with a list of rules he believes all overlay producers should follow, containing good guidelines such as not automatically applying settings, and giving all users the option to quickly dismiss the panel.
Definitely worth a read.
This game accessibility conference is happening on October 24th and 25th. But there is plenty of archive footage from previous conferences.
It covers a really interesting range of topics, such as accessibility in first person games, gaming with a muscle disease, bringing accessibility to storefront descriptions and audio-based games mechanics. Looks like one to watch, even if you’re not in the games development sector.
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