Video Captioning for Accessibility

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A video with closed captioning

A video with closed captioning

The latest tip sheet from AccessATE and DeafTEC goes over accommodations and recommended safety measures for deaf and hard-of-hearing (HH) employees. A common and simple accommodation for deaf/HH people is video captioning, which we’ve touched on before in the Creating Accessible Videos tip sheet from AccessATE and NCAM. Here we’ll go into further detail about video captioning, and how you can integrate it into your workflow to make your videos more accessible.

Tip Sheet: Workplace Accommodations and Safety for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Employees

First, let’s establish what we mean by video “captioning”. It’s easy to mix up captions and subtitles, but the two are distinct from one another in a few ways. Subtitles are text that reflect what’s being spoken, sometimes translated from other languages – this is what you see if you watch a foreign film. Subtitles also include information about additional noises within the video, such as music, background noises, etc – if you’ve ever been watching a film or TV show and seen text like [dramatic music] or [dog barks], you’ve been looking at subtitles! Captions, on the other hand, only include text that’s being spoken, in the language in which it’s spoken – this is what you often see on YouTube videos. Many of us have also heard the term “closed captioning”, but may not understand precisely what it refers to, or that there’s such a thing as open captioning as well. Closed captioning can be displayed or hidden (turned on or off, as it were), while open captioning cannot be hidden from view.

Generally speaking, leaving caption creation up to automated captioning, which is generated by software, is not recommended, as at this point the results are often inaccurate and can be very confusing. So, when it comes to captioning your videos, you have two options: utilizing a captioning service, or captioning the video yourself. Opting for the former involves sending your video to a third-party service, who will then have their professional captioners process your videos and send it back to you, usually for a fee. Popular captioning services include Rev, GoTranscript, and Scribie. Another type of captioning service is live captioning, where a person adds captions to a video in real time for things like conferences, presentations, and meetings. If you decide to utilize live captioning, it is highly recommended that you hire a professional to do it, such as the trained live captioners at VITAC and Captioning Star. Live captioning is a very refined skill, and it’s not safe to assume that someone on your team can do it themselves unless they’ve been specifically trained to do so. Your institution may provide captioning services or have a specific service they partner with, so always check with them first!

If paying for a captioning service is not a viable option, you can learn to caption your videos yourself. Captioning videos is not particularly difficult, but it does take time and practice. We recommend CADET, a captioning tool created by AccessATE partner NCAM. Other popular options include Amara, DotSub, and Subtitle Horse, all of which also have affiliated captioning services. Many of us are using Zoom these days, and may want to record meetings or presentations conducted via Zoom in order to disseminate them later. YouTube is generally the most popular place to do that disseminating, so here’s a typical example of the process of recording a Zoom call, adding captions, and uploading it all to YouTube:

  1. Record the intended Zoom call. Make sure everyone knows the call is being recorded. Once the call is complete, Zoom will provide the video and a transcription file for you to download, which can be found under “Recordings” in your Zoom profile.
  2. Go through the transcript and take out all timestamps and VTT code; it’s better not to rely on these because they don’t always sync correctly. Make a few editing passes to ensure names are spelled correctly, the appropriate words are capitalized, there are no spelling errors, punctuation makes sense, etc.
    1. Note: During this text cleaning, you can keep spaces between lines or speakers – it doesn’t make a difference in the way the text file will be processed. If there’s more than one speaker in the video, it’s good practice to add the speaker’s name, followed by a colon – e.g., Sam: – when the speaker changes.
  3. Watch the video while reading the transcription one more time to ensure it’s all accurate.
  4. Save this cleaned-up text as a .txt file.
  5. Upload the video to YouTube. In the “Add subtitles” section of the upload window, upload your .txt file. Make sure you select “without timing” when prompted. Note that it will look like one big chunk of text, even if you put spaces in it – there’s no need to worry about this!
  6. YouTube will then process the .txt file and video together, and automatically figure out the timing – it’s very accurate, and generates clean, short, easy-to-read snippets of caption text at a time (as opposed to longer chunks, which are harder to read).

Once YouTube finishes processing your video, it’s ready to be shared! If you notice an error in the captions after the fact, you can go into the uploaded video and edit it. Note that videos with captioning can take a little longer to process than those without, especially if the video is long – just be patient! Even longer videos usually process within an hour or so.

Whatever option you choose to pursue when it comes to video captioning, the key is making sure that your final product is of good quality. The captions should be timed well to the audio, be grammatical, have proper punctuation and capitalization, and only display short sentences or sentence fragments at a time. All of this makes them easiest to read and understand, making your videos as accessible as possible!

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