How to Add Captions to Video for Accessibility

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People who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on captions to gain meaning from your video content. But there are a lot of other great reasons for using them, as well. Here’s how to add captions to video for accessibility.

What are captions?

One of the most widely-known uses for captions — closed captioning — enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access and understand the audio portions of a video.

While the terms “subtitles” and “captions” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. Learn more about the differences between captions and subtitles here.

Captions provide a text-based way for people to get the audio content from your videos. Adding captions to video for accessibility should provide an accurate portrayal of any narration and/or dialogue, as well as any musical cues, relevant background noises, and/or markers that note the emotional state of the person or people speaking.

Don’t confuse captions with subtitles, though. While the terms “subtitles” and “captions” are often used interchangeably, there are some notable differences. Learn more about the differences between captions and subtitles here.

Accessible content is necessary (and the right thing to do)

According to World Health Organization (WHO), five percent of the world’s population (or about 360 million people) has disabling hearing loss. When you create video content that does not include captions, you are leaving out a significant portion of your potential audience. That’s a lot of potential lost revenue.

But let’s be clear, there’s a better reason to provide accessible content: It’s the right thing to do.

Refusing or neglecting to provide accessible content is no different than failing to provide wheelchair access ramps to your physical business. At best, you’re ignoring the needs of a significant portion of the population (and your customers). At worst, it can get you into trouble.

But don’t take my word for it. Two New York federal judges say so, too. In fact, since 2015, at least 750 lawsuits have been filed regarding inaccessible digital content, 432 of those were filed in the first eight months of 2017 alone.

Benefits beyond accessibility

As noted above, captions most commonly provide a text-based representation of any audio happening in a video, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

But there are a lot of other reasons to add captions to video as well. One of the more practical reasons, especially for web videos, is so that people don’t need to have their volume turned up to understand the content of your videos.

Imagine someone scrolling through their Facebook feed and coming upon a video. As that video auto-starts, they can’t hear it because their sound is turned off. They’re far more likely to scroll past that video (and miss all your great content) than if that same video contained captions or subtitles that conveyed the dialogue or narration.

The same is true for videos playing in places where there is a lot of ambient noise. If people can’t hear your video, the captions provide the content, no matter how noisy the room.

Added bonus: Accessible content is better content

Here’s another great thing about providing captions on your videos (and providing accessible content in general): They actually make your content better. Accessible content typically requires you to better plan your content, so you’ll end up with a better product. Better planning = better content.

For example, because captioning means you’ll want to start with a script, instead of just winging it, your video is going to be better. Sure, you can probably get your point across shooting from the hip, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you take the time to actually write it all down, you’re more likely to speak more clearly and concisely, and stick to the most relevant points. Oh, and you’re also less likely to forget anything important.

How to add captions to video for accessibility

Note: If you read my recent post about adding captions and subtitles to video, the steps are exactly same. However, I’ll list them here again for convenience.

Most video editors have captioning capabilities. I’ll show the steps for adding captions in Camtasia for Mac.

Step 1a: Start with a script

This step is more about saving time than anything else (though, as noted above, it makes for better content). If the narration or dialogue in your video was read from a script, you’re already way ahead of the game. You can use your script (or transcript) to copy and paste the spoken words into the captioning editor. If you don’t have a script or transcript, skip to Step 1b.

Step 1b: Transcribe your video

If you don’t have a script, you may want a transcript of your video. There are a few ways to accomplish this. If you prefer to just type your captions or subtitles in manually, you can skip to Step 2.

  • You can watch your video and type out exactly what’s being said. This works fine if you have a short video (say, less than five minutes). But longer videos will become more difficult and will take far longer. Even the fastest typist will likely need to stop the video occasionally to ensure an accurate transcription.
  • You can send your video out for translation. There are a number of companies out there that specialize in transcription. A quick Google search will yield a ton of results.
  • Use your video editor’s speech-to-text feature. Many video editors (including Camtasia for Windows) feature speech-to-text ability for your video’s narration or dialogue. The accuracy of the transcription can be affected by a number of factors, including how much other noise is happening in the video, the overall quality of the audio and more. Overall, this is a great feature, but remember that you will definitely want to check the accuracy of the transcription before you share your video.
  • Use YouTube’s automatic transcription services. You can upload your video to YouTube and then download the transcript when it’s completed. As with any auto-transcription, you’ll want to review it carefully to verify its accuracy.

Step 2: Add a captions track to your audio track on the timeline

With Camtasia, there are a couple of ways to get started captioning. However, the easiest way is to select Audio Effects and then drag the captions effect to the audio track on the timeline.

Step 3: Add your captions to the captions track

This is where having a script or transcription really saves time. Select the caption space on the timeline and a caption dialogue box will open below the video preview and the selected portion of the video will play. Then, just copy and paste the portion of the script that’s heard in the selected caption space. You can then click the right arrow button to move to the next caption space. Repeat until you have added all the captions.

If you don’t have a transcript or script, the process is very similar. However, instead of copying and pasting the appropriate portions of the script, you’ll type the corresponding narration or dialogue into the dialogue box. Make sure that you’re typing only what you hear in each selected portion of the video.

Step 4: Review for accuracy

As with any work meant for public consumption, you’ll want to make sure it’s accurate. Once you have added all the captions (and any other necessary audio cues) to your video, review a time or two to ensure the captions match up with the dialogue or narration as perfectly as possible.

Step 5: Produce and share!

Once you’re satisfied your captions are correct, you can share your video with the world. You can produce the video with the captions directly imbedded (called “open captions“) or you can export the caption files to upload to your favorite video hosting solution.

Caption files are exported as .SRT files, which are basically text files with timecodes embedded to help video players such as YouTube, Vimeo, and others know how to sync the captions to the audio.

Note: While open captions add a very important layer of accessibility, most accessibility guidelines recommend closed captions, which allow users to decide whether or not to have the captions displayed.

Do you already add captions to video for accessibility? If not, are you ready to give it a try? Download a free trial of Camtasia and give it a go!


Have you created a presentation recently that you want to turn into a video for wider audience? You don’t have to play the PowerPoint presentation to capture it. With Camtasia, you can directly import the PPT slides and add them to the timeline just like any other kind of media. Then, record your audio and follow the steps above to add captions for accessibility!

Ryan Knott

Ryan Knott is the Public Relations Specialist for TechSmith.
Follow him on Twitter @ryanknott and connect with him on Instagram where you'll mostly find photos of pit bulls and food.
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