Universal Design in Action: Facebook Video Captioning

Here’s an awesome example of universal design backed by data: Facebook video captions!

Screenshot of captioned Facebook video ad

For those who need a refresher, universal design is the idea that websites (and really anything) can be built in ways so that anyone can use them regardless of their ability. One of the beautiful parts of universal design is that one often finds features built to “help people with disabilities” often help people beyond the intended audiences.

Back to the example. Captions on Facebook videos are awesome. They are the only way for people with hearing impairment to understand the video contents, but they make it better for everyone else too. Have you noticed?

Because more and more Facebook videos are captioned, everyone benefits:

  • When scrolling past a video, the sound doesn’t play automatically, preventing a really disorienting series of sounds yet still offering a preview of the video’s audio content.
  • This sound prevention also keeps unexpected noises from bothering other people (think libraries, coffee shops, students who should be paying attention to their professors…)
  • People who can’t hear any sound can use the videos!

Facebook noticed and found that people actually use videos more when they’re captioned!

A separate study for Facebook by Nielsen found recall increases to 47 percent after three seconds of viewing and to 74 percent after 10 seconds.

Of course, captioning videos is still a matter of equity: if you’re taking the time to create content for some, it should be available to all.

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