Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Description
Please familiarize yourself with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, Level AA for audio, video, and slideshows. Additional guidance for media content is below.
Captions are a text version of the speech and non-speech audio information needed to understand audio and video content. They are displayed within the media player and are synchronized with the audio. (W3C)
Provide captions for synchronized multimedia (audio and video), either prerecorded or live.
Who benefits from captioning
Anyone can benefit from captions, particularly if:
- the content includes dialogue that is spoken quickly
- the speaker has an accent the user can’t easily understand
- the audio contains background noise
- the content contains proper names or technical references
Users who also benefit from captioning:
- individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing
- English as additional language speakers
- emergent readers
- anyone in a noisy environment
- people with learning disabilities
- people who process written information better than audio or visual information
A transcript is the text version of media content.
A transcript for prerecorded audio-only or a transcript (or audio track) for prerecorded video-only content is required. It’s best practice to provide a transcript with prerecorded synchronized multimedia to reach the largest possible audience.
Make it easy for users to find the transcript. For example, put the transcript itself or a link to the transcript right under the video on your webpage. (W3C)
Who benefits from transcripts
Transcripts can be useful to anyone, including:
- deaf-blind users who may consume transcripts via a refreshable braille keyboard
- screen-reader users who can more easily control the speed of the spoken word via their screen reader
- users who want to search the transcript to quickly find information
- users who have difficulty processing auditory information
- people using translation services into another language
- users who are unable to view the video
- users whose first preference is text
Audio Description (AD) is narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. (W3C)
Provide audio description for prerecorded, synchronized multimedia. Note: This guideline can be met by describing all visual content critical to comprehension within the audio track itself.
Learn more about the Audio Description Project, an initiative of the American Council of the Blind.
Who benefits from audio description
Audio descriptions are most useful for:
- individuals who are blind, have low vision, or are visually impaired
- users who are unable to view or choose not to view the video
Many platforms offer captions generated by automatic speech recognition (ASR). Although artificial intelligence is constantly improving, ASR captions usually need human verification and correction to reach acceptable accuracy levels.
Captions and transcripts can be corrected by faculty, staff, student volunteers (think extra credit), paid student workers, or third-party service providers. An outside vendor may be the best choice if you need quick turnaround. Correcting captions and transcripts can be a time-consuming process.
Following is a partial list of vendors previously used by the University for captioning purposes. Please reach out to vendors directly for more information. You may want to consult with Student Disability Services if you have questions about contracting service providers.
- Alternative Communication Services (ACS) – also offers interpreting services
For webinars, large events, or seminars—particularly if University-wide, public-facing, or with an audience member with a requested accommodation:
- Place a notice on the event registration/invitation similar to:
- This event will be closed captioned. To request other accommodations, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org no less than 3 business days before the event.
- Provide Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART): CART is the instant translation of the spoken word into text by a trained captioner using a stenotype machine, computer, and real-time software. CART services can be provided on-site or remotely via a web conferencing tool.
- Upon request, provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.
- Note: The costs associated with accessibility are considered part of the overall expense of an event. Event sponsors are responsible for the costs of making their events accessible. Consult the University’s Accessible Event Resource Guide for more information.
- For University-wide or large-scale events, you may want to enlist the services of UChicago Creative or University Events and Ceremonies.
Follow relevant audio, video, and slideshow guidelines for synchronous and asynchronous courses. Place a high priority on offering human-generated or corrected captions for content that is part of your ongoing curriculum, particularly if it will continue to exist beyond the current term.
New public-facing content
Captions and transcripts of new media content on websites or social media should be human-generated or corrected before they are posted. Consult guidelines for audio, video, and slideshows to learn more.
Legacy public-facing content
For existing content on a website or social media platform:
- User requests for captions or transcripts must be fulfilled in a timely manner.
- Update captions and transcripts of your most visited items before those least visited.
- Assess whether media should be removed if no longer necessary or relevant.
Closed captions can be turned on or off by the user.
Open captions are always on, and are formatted and placed by the video editor. If open captions are used, they should not obscure or obstruct relevant information in the video.
Closed captions may be preferable to open captions for usability reasons:
- Closed captions can be turned on or off
- Turning captions off can help people with certain disabilities including cognitive impairments.
- Closed captions provide the user more control over caption display
- Depending on the media player, the user can control font size, playback speed, quality, translation, and more.
- Open captions are not accessible to screen readers