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FAQs About Captioned Media Services

When searching for captioned media, always make sure the captions follow quality standards (e.g., not auto-captions). To find media with quality captions consider these options:

  • Check to see if a captioned version is available online through various networks (e.g. CBS, NBC, Fox) or streaming service providers (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.).

  • The Described and Captioned Media Program has a free library of over 8000 educational videos geared for K-12 audiences that are captioned. Register for a free account here.

  • Check with other local or university libraries to see if they have a copy of the video already captioned available to loan out.

  • Use alternative and comparable media on the same topic that is already captioned.

  • Contact publishers to see if they have copies of captioned media to lend or purchase.

  • Ask your colleagues on different listservs if they have copies of the media you are looking for.

If you cannot find a captioned version from outside sources, or the instructor will not substitute the media with a similar captioned version, develop protocols to get media captioned in a timely manner.

Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) houses a list of vendors that provide post-production captions for media. The list also identifies multiple languages the companies can caption. Some vendors on the list may also provide real-time speech-to-text services.

Additionally, you can subscribe to the NDC Listserv and seek additional referrals to captioned media vendors from colleagues.

Questions to ask a captioned media vendor to ensure quality, accurate captions should include:

  1. What is your accuracy rate and what quality standards do you use to measure accuracy?

  2. What is the process of creating a transcript?

  3. How do you handle difficult or technical content?

  4. What is your turnaround timeframe and are expedited services available?

  5. What video formats do you accept, and what caption formats do you provide?

Vendors may claim variable accuracy rates (some as high as 99%). Accuracy rates are important, and equally important is whether the vendor is following benchmark guidelines from these resources to measure accuracy:

Automatic captions - Also referred to as speech-recognition, automated captioning, or auto-captions, are generated by a computer with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. These captions tend to lack punctuation, speaker identification, and require a human to fix mistakes.

Many platforms include this feature, such as:

  • Video streaming platforms (e.g. YouTube automated captions or Microsoft PowerPoint Translator)

  • Apps (e.g., Translate or Otter.ai)

  • Learning Management Systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas)

  • Live video streaming services (e.g., Google Meet)

Captions - Also referred to as open/closed captions or subtitles. These are captions for pre-recorded video content that are time-synced and embedded into the media. Accurate and edited captions provide equivalent access. Captions also provide auditory information that ASR technology may not be able to identify.

Real-time captioning - Also referred to as live captioning or speech-to-text services. This service is provided by a qualified speech-to-text professional. Examples: Live captioning for news broadcasts or by a third-party vendor streamed into Blackboard for a synchronous online class.

Transcribe/Transcription - Also referred to as a transcript. This process involves converting audio into a plain text document. Transcripts are commonly used for stand-alone audio, such as podcasts or presentations without video. They are also used as the first step towards creating captions for media. Transcripts can be auto-generated using ASR or by speech-to-text professionals.

Instructors alone should not be required to caption media for coursework. Institutions as a whole are responsible for ensuring media is accessible, and the process can be labor intensive. Typically, this process is done by trained professionals/staff who are knowledgeable on captioning standards, such as including more than just spoken language, and knowing how to add captions in different video players. Consider the following strategies when addressing captioned media:

  • Establish a centralized process where media can be sent to be captioned in house or through a third-party captioning vendor. Use a combination of approaches based on turnaround and staff capacity.

  • For in-house captioning, use tools to make the process more streamlined (See “How can I create transcripts for captioning media from auto-captions?”). Ask instructors to provide a list of proper nouns and specific jargon/terminology used in the video for quality and accuracy purposes.

  • Prioritize captioning media when an accommodation request has been explicitly made (e.g., a deaf student enrolled in a course) as well as publicly-accessible materials (e.g., videos on the institution’s website and social media platforms). Captioning everything is encouraged.

  • Encourage instructors to find existing captioned media available on major streaming platforms (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) or from the Described and Captioned Media Program’s library.

Most live conferencing and video production platforms (e.g., Zoom, YouTube, Streamer, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams) claim to have live captioning capabilities.

While auto-caption software accuracy has made some advancements in recent years, often this type of transcription may not have proper punctuation, speaker identification, or other audio descriptions to provide adequate access. Accuracy of auto-captions also relies on the speaker’s use of a high-quality microphone and enunciation of words (i.e., speaking clearly and at a normal pace without an accent). This will also be problematic when multiple individuals are speaking without the use of microphones.

In the rush in providing online accessibility, consider how the student will receive information on their end. If the student spends a considerable amount of time trying to follow inaccurate auto captions, this becomes a barrier to accessing the information being taught.

For more information:

NDC’s Why Captions Provide Equal Access

YouTube’s Automatic Captions Prove Insufficient for ADA Compliance

Are Automatic Captions WCAG, ADA or 508 Compliant?

The disability rights laws require media be captioned when it is requested as part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in K-12 settings or when a college student requests it as an accommodation for their classes during the interactive process. When a request has been made, schools must ensure that all aspects of the classroom are accessible. This means that media made available to the students must be captioned, whether required or used as supplemental materials for class.

However, many schools are also moving towards a proactive approach to captioning media regardless if a request has been made. Advantages to this approach are:

For additional support on understanding your school’s responsibility to provide captioned media please review our Equitable Access Guide (Sections 3 and 5). You may also contact our NDC Help Team for guidance on developing captioned media policies and procedures.

Yes you can! In October 2018, the U.S. Copyright Office established a final ruling that states educational institutions may caption media for accessibility purposes without fear of copyright infringement. This exemption only applies to educational institutions (K-12, college, or university) captioning media as an accommodation for students with disabilities under applicable laws. While you can caption media, your institution must adhere to the following protocols:

  • Reasonable efforts must be taken first to ensure that an accessible version of the video is not already available at a fair price and in a timely manner

  • Accessible media must be distributed to students in a way that prevents unauthorized further dissemination of the work

For more information about this ruling, please review Section 1201 Rulemaking (p. 89).

Auto-captioning software can aid in the development of captioned media, but it is not considered equitable access as a stand-alone option for deaf students. In fact, poor quality, non time-synced captions can cause more confusion and misunderstanding to the reader. Elements of quality captions for accessibility emphasize consistent, clear, and readable captions that are equivalent to the original material. Consider following standards for captioning from the FCC guidelines, DCMP Captioning Key, or WCAG standards.

Additional Resources: