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NCDAE: The National Center on Disability and Access to Education

Increasing universal access by
developing educational resources

NCDAE Tips and Tools: Web Captioning

Created: December 2006

The following is a brief introduction to the principles and potential challenges of captioning for the web. It is meant to be a starting point, not a definitive guide to captioning. If you are interested in learning more, read the NCDAE captioning article and the several captioning resources provided by WebAIM. WebAIM is a partner with NCDAE.

What are Captions?

Captions are text equivalents of the spoken word and other audio content. They allow the audio content of web multimedia to be accessible to those who do not have access to audio, primarily the Deaf and hard-of-hearing. Captioning can be expensive, and a little daunting at first, but it is also a very important part of making content accessibleaccessible design.

Common web accessibility guidelines indicate that captions should be:

Captioning media

There are five main steps to captioning a file for the web.

1. Create or obtain a transcript

There are a few ways that a transcript can be created, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

2. Segment into individual caption displays and add speaker names

Before captions can be created, text must be chunked into smaller units of one or two short sentences. This is usually accomplished by adding manual line breaks between units (hit Enter twice). New speakers or a change in speaker should also be identified by starting the line with the person's name, a colon and a space. Sometimes you will see the speaker identified in a separate line, but this is usually a waste of space.

Note: This step can be combined with Step 1.

3. Assign timecode for each caption to synchronize with audio

Several programs exist to help people synchronize text transcripts with media. The two most popular tools are MAGpie (a free tool) and Hi-Caption. For more information on using these tools, see the following tutorials.

4. Create appropriate caption files (QTtext, RealText, SAMI)

Every media player uses a different format for their caption files. This can be frustrating if your media files exist in more than one format, but many tools, including those listed in Step 3, can create files in these different formats. The following is a list of the most common file types.

There are also some tools that allow you to create captions for Adobe Flash content, although there is not currently a single specified format for captions in Flash.

5. Combine with media and distribute the captioned media

There is no easy way to learn how to combine media and caption files. It can be a difficult process. If you are interested in captioning for a specific format, the following WebAIM tutorials might be helpful.

Captioning Accessibility Challenges and Solutions

The following table lists common challenges associated with captions, the people with disabilities that might be impacted and possible solutions to these challenges.

Accessibility challenge Disability type(s) Solution(s)
A person cannot hear or easily understand audio or video content. Deaf, Cognitive, Low literacy, non-native language, All
  • Provide captions for all video content.
  • Provide captions for all live audio and video content.
  • Provide transcripts for recorded audio content.
Captions may be too long, causing part of the caption to be hidden, or making it difficult to read. All, Cognitive Each excerpt should be no more than two lines long.
Captioned media is not accessible to a person relying on a Refreshable Braille device Deaf Blind Provide a text transcript in addition to captions.
In a video, there may be important content conveyed visually that is not included in the captions. Blind
  • Provide Audio Descriptions.
  • Ensure that all visual content is part of the audio as well. For example, in a video of a PowerPoint presentation, make sure all the slide content is read by the presenter.
Embedded media players may not be as keyboard-accessible Blind, Cannot use a mouse
  • Avoid using embedded media players.
  • If an embedded player is necessary, ensure that it is keyboard-accessible.
Small videos may be hard to view Low Vision

When possible, offer the option of a higher-resolution video.

Large videos may be very difficult to view by someone with a slow internet connection All users
  • When possible, offer the option of a lower-resolution video.
  • Optimize the video so that the file is as small as possible.
Small font size and poor fonts may make a caption unreadable Low vision, all users
  • 14 pt. font size is ideal.
  • White text on a black background is usually best.
  • Use a clear sans serif font such as Helvetica or Arial.
It may be difficult for some deaf people to read captions, as Engligh is not the first language for many Deaf people (it is ASL or another sign language). Deaf It may be appropriate to provide a video with an ASL (in the U.S.) interpreter in addition to a captioned video. This approach is not always recommended, because it can be very expensive, and because an ASL alternative will not benefit as many people as a captioned video.
Nonverbal audio cues are not always included in captions. Deaf, Anyone who is unable to hear the audio Ensure that captions include all important audio cues including non-verbal sounds and change of speaker.

Real-time Captions

Real-time, streaming web multimedia introduces an additional challenge for captioning. The difficulties in generating real-time captions are 1) Audio information must be converted into text in real time, and 2) The text captions must be delivered to the end user so they are synchronized with the audio. Both of these issues introduce difficulties when dealing with live, real-time web multimedia.