Making an accessible course relying largely on human v/o and closed captions?

Jul 11, 2018

(For some reason, this question got flagged in the Storyline forum, so I just deleted it. This may be a better place for it.)

I've created a lot of Storyline courses with various types of closed captions or transcripts, and I've been experimenting with classic accessibility features on some draft courses, using tab order, alt text, etc. to work with screen readers.

But I'm about to create my first fully accessible course, meeting AODA standards for Ontario (WCAG 2.0, Level A). It's a soft skills course, not technical or software training.

All previous courses for this client have relied upon narration and closed captions. We'd like to keep using our favourite voice artist and narration, but I have concerns about making this work without audio clashing when screen readers enter the mix.

Has anyone out there ever made full v/o work in an accessible course?

My current concept for the course is to treat it as a podcast with a lot of visual elements that keep changing in order to engage most of our students who won't be using screen readers, plus accessible quizzes/knowledge checks.

Most screens would show relevant visuals and text excerpts, but the full "story" is carried by the narration (identical in the v/o script and captions). Students would need to keep audio turned on or keep captions visible to get all the content.

To avoid clashing screen reader content, none of the images or text on these slides would be made accessible to tab order or the screen reader. Text would be presented as an image, and alt text would not be used for on-screen content.

(Exception: the quizzes/knowledge check slides would have no v/o and would be designed to work with screen readers.)

This provincial course on the AODA is a series of talking head videos, plus some imagery:

I may emulate that approach using Storyline objects on each slide and/or create some mp4s and include them as auto-playing video.

It seems bizarre to design an accessible course by avoiding the usual techniques, so are there any pitfalls I should be aware of? Are there any other ways I can keep useful v/o, avoiding putting a lot of text on the screen, and still keep everything accessible and clear?


5 Replies
Nancy Woinoski

I have made accessible courses with full v/o. On the initial screen, I allow the user to specify their preferences by adding buttons that enable them to toggle the audio and closed captioning on and off.  

Unfortunately , the closed caption feature in Storyline 360 ( I think it is in 3 as well) does not work when you pause or stop the audio so you have to create custom CC if you allow them to turn off the audio. The way I do this is to put the text version for each slide on a layer which will only display if the user enables the cc option on the first slide.

I usually design my slides so that there is some space at the bottom of each slide to display the text without interfering with the content. 

Another thing that I do is if there are special instructions for people using screen readers, I add the text to the slides but make it the same colour as the background. This way the screen reader will pick up the text but other viewers will not see it.

As for not using alt tags on images - my understanding is that people with accessibility issues are entitled to a comparable experience as other users so images should be described. 

As Léonie Watson said: “I used to have sight so I appreciate descriptive alt text on decorative images because it evokes memories of things in my mind.”

Another thing I sometimes do, not always, is play a sound when the nav buttons are  "clicked" with a mouse or tab + enter to signify the action has occurred.

Hope this helps.

Mary Lacroix

Thanks very much for the detailed advice. You're giving me a lot to work with. I have created custom captions before, so that's good to know about the new Storyline CC limitations.

Re alt tags on images: my reluctance to use these tags was because I planned that these screens would already have v/o to present the core content of the course. I was concerned that the screen reader calling out alt tag text at the same time as the v/o was playing would be confusing. (I admittedly am very much a novice with screen readers and I don't know if skilful users can get around this.)

I guess my conflict comes down to these two approaches:

1 - My original plan was for "podcast with pictures and closed captions" where the v/o content would be used by all students with audio capabilities (CC added to match that script exactly). I would add brief display text, images and figures to keep the interest of anyone approaching the course visually, but would "hide" these elements from screen readers to avoid conflict with v/o. Think of something like this: 

If people using screen readers turn off audio in this course design, they will miss most of the course content.

Would I just point them to transcripts? I was planning to provide a full downloadable transcript for each section of the course anyway, but pointing them to use that instead of the v/o experience others will have on each screen doesn't seem like the right accessible experience, although they may appreciate the chance to let the screen reader play things back at their usual higher rate of speed.

2 - The alternative would be to keep all v/o as a brief intro to each screen, then go silent while using more comprehensive display text and imagery. Alt text and tabbing through text boxes would give those with screen readers the whole experience. But this could be a really text-heavy course, given the scope of the topic.

Thanks again!

Nancy Woinoski

if they turn off the audio, i would give them the option to diplay the transcript directly on the slides using the layer idea i mention about. 

You can do this by creating a button that toggles a true/false variable on and off when clicked.  just add a trigger to each slide to show the layer at the start of timeline when variable is true and another trigger to hide the layer if varable is false.


Mary Lacroix

Good idea! I'll have to just build a prototype and test out my original concept with screen space for everything. I can re-use my existing code which toggled CC on and off. I'm also designing another course with a transcript area at the side so that there's enough room for text without scrolling. Using the built-in Notes tab (labelled Transcript) might also be an option.

I really need to get more practice with NV Access ...