Accessible media has numerous benefits for a wide range of individuals. Below are examples of how accessible media can be of benefit followed by specific disabilities with examples of how Accessible Media can play a vital role in inclusion and help promote engagement.
Benefits of Accessible Media
Reading ability and engagement
- With frequent exposure, captions may promote word identification (i.e. learning to associate the spoken word with the written word), meaning, acquisition, and retention. For example, by becoming familiar with captions, pre-readers (i.e. those who have not yet learned to read) may recognize familiar words when they begin reading print-based material.
- Reading captions is often a positive reading experience that motivates children and others to engage in reading activities.
- Development of reading skills requires practice – reading captions offers practice with authentic text (i.e., natural or real teaching materials such as newspapers, magazines, radio and videos).
- Adults with lower-than-average levels of reading ability have also been shown to benefit from captioned videos.
Understanding and comprehension of material
- Accessible media can benefit different types of learners, depending on the type of media and the learners’ needs. For example, visual learners may specifically benefit from reading the captions of the dialogue because it is in their preferred modality.
- Captioning has been related to higher comprehension skills when compared to viewers watching the same media without captions.
- Captioning has been linked to improved comprehension for both students with and without learning disabilities (Kirkland, Byrom, MacDougall, & Corcoran, 1995).
- Students often need assistance in learning content-relevant vocabulary (for example, words specific to biology, history, literature, and other subjects). With captions, they see the specific terminology as text, accompanied by a visual image that gives context to the definition.
- English Language Learners (ELL) or those learning English as a Second Language (ESL) may benefit when videos are captioned. Comprehension and vocabulary may both increase among ELL students, particularly when the vocabulary to be learned and remembered is challenging.
- Captioning can be used in locations that are inherently noisy (e.g. restaurants), as well as in locations where the sound from the video would be distracting (e.g. waiting rooms, gyms).
Benefits for Specific Populations
Part of inclusive teaching is acknowledging the uniqueness of students and teaching using a variety of ways such that it reaches a diverse audience. In the school system, students are grouped under various exceptionalities. Below are examples of how individuals, as defined under the five categories of “exceptional pupil” in the Education Act, can benefit from accessible media. This information can also be applied to teachers, educators, and staff as accessible media can benefit everyone in obtaining equal access to information.
Deaf and Hard of hearing: Audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing can benefit from captioning and descriptive text, as they may be able to follow the dialogue by reading the captions, as well as reading key auditory events (e.g. “a door is slammed shut”) that are included as part of the captions.
Clean audio, where the important sound elements are increased in volume compared to the soundtrack and background noise, can be beneficial to those who are hard of hearing, as only the important audio information is highlighted.
Captions can provide missing information for individuals who have difficulty processing speech and auditory components of the visual media, regardless of whether this difficulty is due to a hearing loss or a cognitive disability.
Individuals with Low Vision, Blindness and/or Visual Disability: People with low vision or blindness will have no (or limited access) to visual information and thus benefit from audio descriptions of visual elements. For those with colour blindness, described video can help highlight key details that may otherwise be missed by the user because the image was colour coded or symbolized in colour on the screen.
Physical Disabilities: Students with varying types of physical disabilities may have difficulty controlling accessible media (e.g. opening a video file, playing and pausing the video), even if the media itself is accessible in other ways, when viewed. When students are accessing videos online, limited arm or hand movements, co-ordination or sensory awareness may affect their ability operate a mouse or other generic pointing device, which would impact the way they interact with a media player. Media players that can be controlled in various ways (e.g. the play/pause key selected using the keyboard or via switch access) make the control of media more accessible.
It is important to also consider those who have a temporary physical disability, such as an arm or hand fracture, to be able to access the same material as their peers during the recovery period.
Students with physical disabilities may have difficulty maintaining a consistent posture and or focus on the video. Audio description would provide another means of accessing any visual information missed.
Individuals with Cognitive and Neurological disabilities: This category covers a wide range of conditions that may include intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, autism spectrum, memory impairments, mental- health issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, audio- and/or visual processing disorders, dyslexia, dyscalculia, seizure disorders. Depending on the condition as well as the individual’s specific abilities, accessibility requirements may vary. For example, some conditions may be associated with individuals preferring auditory information, thus audio descriptions would increase the students’ comprehension of the media.
Autism Spectrum: Some people on the spectrum can benefit if the media is flexible, and not overwhelming. Using descriptions or captions to draw attention to important plot or topic elements may help promote understanding of what is being conveyed. Captioning software could also be used beyond dialogue and important sound effects, to instead describe key messages or points that may not be apparent to the individual. However, any additional information provided should focus on the purpose of the content and provides alternative content in a clear, concise manner.
Individuals may exhibit disruptive behaviour due to difficulties with concentrating or processing information. Media can be used in a variety of ways to assist with concentration. People can listen, see, and manipulate media to meet their own learning needs. Accessible media allows for flexibility with learning.
People with multiple disabilities have a combination of two or more exceptionalities, including intellectual, mobility, communication, and behaviour. Examples of multiple impairments can be conditions that may affect both physical and intellectual or communication functions, such as Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis. Accessible media can benefit these students, as they may need additional visual and/or auditory information when they are viewing media, or they may need an alternate set-up to control the media player being used.
It is important to keep in mind that no two students are alike, therefore, it is important to present information using a variety of modalities (captioning, described video, etc.). This allows for information to be accessible to the diversity of learners. Inclusive teaching addresses ways to create media that reaches many learners (e.g., ELL, ESL, those who are visual learners, auditory learners) versus, upon request.
Kirkland, C. E., Byrom, E. M., MacDougall, M. A., & Corcoran, M. D. (1995). The effectiveness of television captioning on comprehension and preference. American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.