When you produce a live stream, you want as many people as possible to be able to benefit from it. But not everyone can enjoy every live stream. There are those with disabilities or other barriers that often aren’t accounted for. These obstacles make it difficult, or impossible, for many people to engage with media in a way that many of us take for granted. When producing live streams, it’s important to account for these obstacles whenever practical.
Barriers to accessibility in live streaming
There are various barriers that may prevent a live stream from being as accessible as you’d like. Some are the more obvious disabilities, such as lack of hearing or sight. Some are less obvious, such as motor impairments. Understanding the difficulties people may face is the first step to addressing them.
Examples of difficulties faced by people with disabilities
- Visual impairments – Having visual impairments doesn’t necessarily mean being completely blind. Some people may be able to see but still struggle to read text on the screen, distinguish between similar colors, or follow fast-paced videos. When creating videos that rely heavily on visual cues, it’s especially important to keep these people in mind and structure the video in a way that best accommodates them.
- Hearing impairments – Those who are hard of hearing may not be able to pick up on audio cues that are played too faintly. This can include sound effects or music, and even dialogue if it isn’t spoken loudly and clearly. When these cues are important to follow along with the content, it’s important to add in other cues that will provide redundancy so nobody misses them.
- Motor impairments – This may not seem like a problem that impacts a person’s ability to enjoy a live stream, but it does present an accessibility problem. Difficulties in using a mouse or other input device make it harder to start the content or to navigate through it once it’s started.
- Cognitive impairments – Depending on your target audience, some of them may have cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to process complex information. When creating a live stream, it’s always important to keep the target audience and mind and speak in a way that will be clear and understandable to all of them.
- Language barriers – Here’s another area where it’s important to understand your target audience. If any of your viewers don’t natively speak the language used in your live stream, it can be difficult for them to follow along. Simplified language can help in those instances. But if you need to address a worldwide audience, you may find multi-lingual closed captioning to be a better option.
- Sensory processing difficulties – Those with sensory processing difficulties, such as those on the autism spectrum, can struggle to process certain types of sensory input. Sometimes, this can even be dangerous. For example, rapidly flashing lights can cause a seizure in some epileptics. Being careful about flashing lights or sudden loud noises can help prevent distressing sensory overload. When necessary, a warning will help those with medical conditions prepare themselves.
The current state of accessibility in live streaming
The current state of accessibility in live streaming is mixed. Some of the better platforms have made attempts to improve accessibility, providing features such as closed captioning, audio descriptions, or even sign language interpretation. However, much of the work in ensuring an accessible experience for all comes down to the creator, rather than the platform.
As we just saw in the previous section, many of the factors that impact a person’s ability to easily consume a live stream come from the way it’s produced, rather than any platform-specific features. As a content creator, you’ll be responsible for taking some of the steps required for everyone to be able to easily benefit from your production. Often, these features aren’t left out because of a lack of compassion, but rather from a lack of awareness.
Importance of making live streams accessible
Perhaps the biggest reason to make live streams more accessible is so nobody has to miss out on something because of a disability they suffer from. Whether it’s in the form of information or entertainment, those with disabilities shouldn’t have to search harder to find what they need than is necessary. When simple steps can help ensure that their search stops with your stream, you’ve made a big difference in that person’s life and the lives of people just like them.
A secondary reason is that making a live stream available to more people increases the number of people who can engage with your content. By showing those who struggle with other live streams that you care about their needs, you’re creating a larger and more loyal fan base than your competition has. If you find that cost is a deciding factor, remember to calculate the benefits of a larger and more appreciative audience.
Finally, some of the features designed to help those with disabilities or other needs can benefit everyone. For example, if someone is watching in a noisy environment, or one that requires silence, closed captioning may be the only way they can consume the material, regardless of how well they are capable of hearing.
Features that can improve accessibility
Once you’ve nailed down how you’ll design your live stream to be more accessible, you need to start looking at the accessibility features of your platform. Learn how to use them and make sure to take advantage of them. If your platform doesn’t have the features you need, consider switching to one that does.
By providing text on the screen that conveys the content of the video, you’ll make it easier for people with hearing impairments to understand the audio content. For those who speak a different language, you can provide multi-lingual closed captioning so they can understand what’s going on as well. Even users who don’t need closed captioning all the time may find it beneficial during particularly difficult-to-hear passages or in noisy environments.
These are the opposite of closed captioning. They provide a verbal narration that describes the non-audio portion of the video. It helps people who have trouble seeing to better understand the context of the audio they hear. It can also be useful for viewers who may be trying to multi-task and aren’t sitting directly in front of the video while it’s playing.
Sign language interpretation
This is a feature rarely offered by live streaming platforms, but one that can be of great help to your audience. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, sign language is often a preferred way to engage with content. They are used to communicating through sign language and may find it less distracting than closed captions because of that.
High contrast mode
Those with poor vision or other vision impairments may find it difficult to see text and graphics if they’re too similar in contrast to one another. A high contrast option in your player lets users adjust those differences until they’re able to make them out clearly. How this is implemented varies, so be sure you get familiar with your chosen platform’s accessibility features.
A mouse can be difficult for users with motor control impairments to use easily. Choosing a platform that has readily accessible keyboard controls for controlling the video will make it easier for those users to navigate the live stream. This feature is also frequently taken advantage of by live stream audiences more generally as a more convenient option than reaching for the mouse.
Best practices for live streaming accessibility
To improve the accessibility of products, a set of universal design principles have been developed. These principles account for the difficulties we’ve discussed so far and provide a nice checklist to go down as you choose your live streaming platform and design your content.
- Make live streaming content accessible through multiple formats and features, such as closed captioning and audio descriptions, for people with hearing or visual impairments.
- Use live streaming software that accommodates different input methods and devices, such as keyboard shortcuts and alternative input devices, for people with motor impairments.
- Make live streaming content engaging and interactive through features that those with cognitive impairments can process more easily, such as live chat and polls.
- Ensure flexibility in the design of your chosen platform to accommodate different user needs and preferences, such as the ability to adjust the font size and color scheme.
- Choose live-streaming software that’s easy to use and navigate with a consistent user experience across different devices and platforms.
Testing and feedback
You likely won’t get everything perfect the first time. That is normal. By letting your live stream audience in on your goal of creating a more accessible live stream, you can open the door for construction feedback about how well you’ve done. Your audience will let you know what you’ve done well, and more importantly, what you may have missed.
As you learn from what the audience says and try their suggestions, they’ll be able to refine their feedback. In turn, you’ll be able to refine your approach to the problem. Over time, with you and your audience working in concert, you’ll find an approach that accommodates as many of them as possible. Without this feedback and testing phase, you may incorrectly assume that your first attempts fixed the issue when they didn’t.