Closed Captions in Online Videos

Recording audio and captioning

When I think about closed captions, I’m taken back to my childhood, and the booming declaration by an anonymous narrator during Saturday morning cartoons, “closed captioning for Arthur provided by contributions to your local PBS Station by viewers like you.” What I didn’t realize as a child was that it meant something; those captions were giving other viewers the ability to enjoy the same show when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to follow the story. Closed Captioning is a very important part of of not just television – but videos everywhere – including those we create and post online.

Closed Captioning, in terms of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has become a hot topic. The ADA does not definitively say whether or not captions are needed for all videos hosted online, but really: how could it? The bill is now 25 years old, the world – and communication itself – has changed in ways that could not have been accounted for. Think about all the accessibility concerns that have simply been glossed over due to the passage of time. Blogging didn’t even officially exist until 1994, YouTube wasn’t around, and being an internet sensation or sending a quick explainer video wasn’t something people even thought about. But now, with 43% of the global population surfing the web and 48.9 million people in the US having a disability, it is more important than ever that content be available to everyone.

While there may not be strict rules for all videos hosted online, there are some instances in which closed captions are absolutely required. The first is if your organization receives federal funding. Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that no qualified individual can be discriminated against or denied benefits under any program or activity that receives funding by the federal government as a result of their disabilities. Further, section 508 states that all electronic materials created by the federal government need to be made accessible. Another instance in which there are hard and fast rules for captioning involves television. Thanks to the hard work of the National Association of the Deaf and the FCC in 2006, it is now mandatory that closed captions be provided for all new, non-exempt, television programming (both live and pre-recorded) – including that which is hosted online after the initial broadcast.

So, what about the rest of online videos? Certainly, it is a best practice to caption your content, despite the fact that it may not be strictly required. However, due to a recent court case we may be getting closer to an understanding of where the ADA stands on requiring closed captioning for all online videos. In 2010, Netflix was presented with a class action lawsuit for failing to provide captions for their entire library of videos. The deciding factor in the case was the fact that Netflix, an online-only company, was deemed a “place of public accommodations,” which is an important definition. Under the ADA, accessibility is required in all places of public accommodations – and the internet is about as public as it gets, isn’t it? In the end, though the case was settled out of court, Netflix agreed to add captions to all of the videos available as a part of their service, thus putting them in line with the standards set out by the ADA. If you’d like to learn more about this landmark case, check out the National Association of the Deaf’s website for more details on NAD vs. Netflix!




In summary, there are some very hard and fast rules about closed captions online, and there are also some very loose recommendations. However, cases and rulings aside, making your content accessible is truly the right thing to do! The ADA was created to make the world a more inclusionary place, and it’s on all of us to make their goal it a reality. So, why not get started today?

Getting started with Closed Captioning

If you’re ready to get started with captioning, I’m happy to report that it’s getting easier to do! You have a couple options:

A good place to start would be adding closed (or open!) captions with Camtasia. Camtasia has multiple built-in methods for achieving these, and we even have a guide regarding ADA compliance with captions. Check out some of our free tutorials, listed below, to get the ball rolling.

1. Captions can be manually added by typing them line by linecaptions2

This is time consuming, but very accurate

2. Speech-to-text can be used for automated captioning

For the best results, voice train your computer

3. Captions can be created by using a script

Make sure that your captions are accurate. If you improvised a segment in the middle, you will need to transcribe it

4. Captions can be imported from .SAMI and .SRT files

This is useful if someone else manages your captions, or the translation of your captions

YouTube and our Preferred Partner, Vimeo, both offer similar captioning options built in as free (and paid) additions to their on-site editors. Youtube has comparable options for writing, importing, and auto-generating closed captions. They even have a slick transcript feature that automatically times the lines with what is said in the video! In turn, Vimeo has the capability to upload or manually edit captions. Both platforms even go a step further to recommend paid services for those with accessibility needs on a larger scale. Vimeo recommends Amara, and YouTube has a whole list of closed caption providers.

Give it a try today! Download a free trial of Camtasia, or try adding some captions to an existing video using one of the methods above.