Media Control and Animations | Elearning Accessibility Tips and Tricks

You know how it’s annoying when you open an article you want to read and a video starts auto-playing, sound and all? News websites are notorious for this. Or worse, there’s sound coming from a video you didn’t play in one of your dozens of tabs? And you can’t find the tab to turn it off?

It’s annoying! And it’s even worse than annoying for screen reader users. It can make websites impossible to navigate.

It’s a similar situation for animations (think PowerPoint and frenetic YouTube videos). Animations are considered to be “fun!” by many content creators, but when used without a meaningful purpose, they can be very distracting or create an unfriendly experience for users with disabilities.

Watch or read on:

When someone uses a screen reader to navigate the web, they are navigating by sound. They use a keyboard to navigate. Each command entered using a keyboard produces an audio confirmation by the screen reader, and every webpage is read aloud.

So imagine having only your ears to navigate the web and videos and audio start playing all by themselves – it’s an impossible situation! If they’re browsing the web just for fun, sure, they can go to another website. But if they’re trying to get important information, the web designer has made that an impossible task.

Media Control

It’s an easy fix: auto-playing video and audio is incredibly disruptive, so don’t set video and audio to play automatically. Period. Give the user control. If it’s a design option to include player controls like play and pause, always enable those player controls.

Also, use a screen reader-friendly video platform. Choose something that can be controlled entirely (or very close to) with a keyboard. Some options include:

  • Able Player, a free HTML5 media player that is fully accessible
  • Panopto, which is not free, but is compatible with screen readers
  • YouTube, almost entirely usable with keyboard
  • Zoom, which features shortcuts for keyboard usability

The bottom line for media including video and audio is to leave the controls to the user. This is one of those accessibility features that won’t be spotted by an automated tool like WAVE’s WebAIM, you have to know to design it accessibly.

Animations

PowerPoint offers lots of animation options. So do video-editing platforms, like Camtasia or Canva. Animations can be really fun! They add energy and personality to a video.

But they can also be distracting or annoying, and particularly, they can a problem for people with certain types of disabilities, specifically learning disabilities. Read this powerful first-person experience with animations written by someone with learning disabilities.

Auto-playing content, GIFs on endless repeat, unusual motion effects when scrolling through a webpage – all of these things can mean a disastrous experience. Every tried to read an article with flashing ads and videos playing on the side? It’s more than annoying, it’s aggravating if not downright enraging (I’ll disable my ad-blocker when you disable your visually distracting ads, websites!).

So, consider: What point are you trying to make with your animations and motion effects? Is there a meaning attached? Are you, for example, driving home how much growth a business has experienced by using a growth animation? Or are your animations “just for fun”?

Animations are best used when they have a purpose or they are conveying meaning of some sort. If they are just there to add energy and personality, they likely should be removed.

Know that razzle-dazzle is not necessary to keep your audience’s attention. Well-crafted content with strong delivery is powerful enough. Let your audience choose to trigger motion or media.

And if you are presenting a PowerPoint, in the words of Tim Slade, when in doubt, fade in and out! That’s the only animation you often need.