2 characters talking with captions underneath
Image description: A video of 2 cartoon characters chatting with each other. The green square character is wearing a yellow triangular hat. At the bottom are subtitles that say, "Miss Circle: Your hat's a bit crooked. Mx. Square: It's ok! I like it that way."

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Why This is Important

Captions are primarily for Deaf/hard of hearing people to access audio in videos.

Deaf/HoH people require captions to be able to access audio—this includes spoken word, music soundtrack, and other sounds.

Captions and subtitles also make media more accessible for people in a variety of situations, including those who speak a different language, those in noisy or very quiet environments, those who prefer visuals, etc.

This references WCAG criteria 1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded) (Level A) and 1.2.4 Captions (Live) (Level AA)

How to Implement This

There are 2 main steps to adding captions to video - creating the transcript (i.e. converting audio to text) and then syncing the text to match the audio in the video.

Create the transcript

For creating the transcript, I have listed a number of resources in the page “Provide audio transcripts.” Many of these tools are auto-captioning services that can be used to jumpstart the process, though some degree of manual transcribing and editing is necessary for accuracy.

In the process of creating the transcript, it's critical to keep in mind caption quality. According to the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), quality captioning must be:

  • Accurate - no errors
  • Consistent - uniform style and presentation
  • Clear - complete textual representation, including speaker identification and non-speech information
  • Readable - visually readable in terms of timing, synchronization, and and visibility
  • Equal - preserve the original meaning and intention

See DCMP Captioning Key for more.

The "equal" rule applies specifically to censorship of what some people consider unsavory material, such as profanity and swearing. Ahmed Kahlifa (a Deaf educational blogger) explains why censorship is a barrier against information access - Why you should never censor audible profanity in video captions?

Note: I personally agree with Deaf activists and consider censorship of profanity to be very patronizing. However in the case of some racist, ableist, or otherwise offensive slurs, I do think the captioner is socially obligated to partially censor the slur.

Syncing captions to audio

There are 2 ways of adding captions to video - open and closed captions.

  1. Open captions are burned into the video and always showing - this is optimal for customizing the visual styling.
  2. Closed captions are a separate track that can be turned on or off, depending on the video - this is optimal for working across multiple platforms with different languages, and are SEO-compatible.

Here are some resources to adding captions to your videos:

For video on social media such as Instagram, you can type in the captions manually, use the built-in auto-caption tool if available, or burn in captions using a different tool, such as Clipomatic.

How to Test This

Manually check to see if there are captions in video content.


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