How To… Make Online Videos Accessible Using Captions and Subtitles

By Dr Hannah Rudman
18 December 2012

Accessibility refers to the practice of ensuring your product is available to as many users as possible. Web accessibility refers to the practice of making websites usable for all people, particularly for those with physical impairments, ensuring that everyone has equal access to all web content. The World Wide Web consortium (W3C) has established a set of guidelines known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which attempts to provide a standardised and definitive set of rules for how to develop accessible online content.

Making a video accessible is less time-consuming or expensive than you may think. Increasing your user accessibility is made easier by following web standards. For video production, the steps required to make your video fully accessible are largely the same as existing web standards. For example, tagging your video clip with appropriate metadata is useful for SEO as well as for captioning.

Video accessibility benefits many different groups of users:

  • Users with hearing or visual impairments
  • Users with moderate to severe visual and hearing limitations
  • Users who are watching/listening to video in a foreign language (international viewers)
  • Circumstances when video playback itself is impaired (audio playback is forbidden or broken)
  • Moments when users are unable to playback both video and audio (watching video while travelling)

Captions (sometimes called “subtitles”) are the textual representation of a video’s soundtrack. A video’s captions can transmit all of the following types of audible information: narration, dialogue, sound effects and music. They are critical for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. If you upload video to the Web, and that video includes sound, you should always include a text alternative, such as captions. As an added bonus, since most captioning for the Web relies on text, providing captions for your videos will mean your video will reach more people. Google, the main SEO-driver, requires meta-data to better index your content in its search engines. Thus, making your videos accessible will absolutely help Google find and index them quicker and more easily. Your small effort then has bit payoff: more and better targeted visitors to your site.

The Benefits of Captions

  • Captions provide missing information for individuals who have difficulty processing speech and auditory components of the visual media (regardless of whether this difficulty is due to a hearing loss or a cognitive delay).
  • Captioning is essential for viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing, can be very beneficial to those learning English as a second language, and can help those with reading and literacy problems.
  • Captioning has been related to higher comprehension skills when compared to viewers watching the same media without captions.
  • Captions assist in learning content-relevant vocabulary (in business, science, technology, and other subjects) – viewers see both the terminology (printed word) and the visual image.
  • Captions help make your video content easier to find on the Web through search engines.
  • Captions give you the option of adding language subtitles, making your video content accessible to any language audience you desire.

How to create captions and subtitles

You can download and install any one of a number of desktop captioning/subtitling programs that offer options to create and export caption files for many different media players and formats. If you’d prefer to create the caption files over the Internet, rather than on your computer, there are several free Web-based tools you can use to create captions for your streaming videos, all of which have their own particular features and limitations. All the current options are listed below.

For our demonstration, we have used the software solution Jubler (see below). Depending on your operating system and needs, however, you may wish to use another system. All the software and web-based soutions below basically work in the same way to produce a caption/subtitle file. Some have more functionality than others.

To install Jubler on your system, follow the instructions for your operation system in our Caption Software Guide – How to install JUBLER.

Desktop Captioning/Subtitling Software

  • Jubler (free and open source, for Windows, Mac and Linux) A Java-based tool for creating captions and subtitles in a variety of formats.
  • Subtitle Workshop (free) (Windows only) The most complete, efficient and convenient freeware subtitle editing tool. However, no Mac version.
  • Captionate (free) A desktop application for captioning Flash videos.
  • CC For Flash (free) A Flash component that can be used to display captions for Flash video and audio content, as well as caption files saved in Apple’s Quicktime QText format.
  • MacCaption Works with Final Cut Pro or any Non-Linear Editing (NLE) system to produce captions for multiple formats and players. No closed captioning hardware required.
  • MAGpie (free) (Windows and Mac) A tool for creating captions in multiple formats and media types.
  • MovCaptioner (Mac only [Windows version in development]) Utilizes a GUI to create and synchronize captions in a number of popular formats. Single- and multi-user licenses available.

Software to create transcripts of video

Any basic text editor/word-processor will allow you to type a transcript of your video’s audio track. You may also like to use a speech recognition software to create a transcript. The most popular speech recognition packages are listed below:

  • CMU Sphinx (open source)
  • Dragon Dictate (Windows and Mac, commercial)
  • Windows Speech Recognition by Microsoft is the speech recognition system that comes built into Windows Vista, 7 and 8. Speech Recognition is available only in English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese.

Web-based Captioning/Subtitling Tools

  • Universal Subtitles A clean and simple interface for creating captions from a YouTube or Vimeo video. A little fiddly to use and limited functionality but fairly straightforward if you want a software-free option.
  • CaptionTube CaptionTube has a clean (and simple) user interface and multi-language capability similar to many of the other software solutions. It is slightly more integrated with YouTube than the others, and features a convenient export tool which allows you to e-mail the captions to a video’s owner (if you’re captioning for someone else) or download a .SUB or .SRT file.
  • dotSUB Allows people from around the world to create caption files in multiple languages for streaming videos. The dotSUB caption file can be exported to a SRT format for use with Subtitle Workshop or Jubler (see above). dotSUB Repair is an online script that replaces missing zeroes in SRT files exported from dotSUB and Overstream. Use this tool to repair your SRT file before uploading it to YouTube or importing it to software.
  • Overstream Provides a graphical interface for creating captions. The Overstream Editor allows the user to export a SRT file which can be uploaded to YouTube to provide closed captions, or converted to Timed Text XML using Subtitle Workshop, Subtitle Horse, or MAGpie.
  • Subtitle Horse A tool for transcribing Flash videos online and exporting/converting a caption file in several different formats including the Timed Text XML format used by multiple video players including both the Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight players.
  • Easy YouTube Caption Creator A simple tool (designed for ease of use in mind) used to create captions for YouTube videos.

Want to learn more about accessibility?

Take AmbITion’s Learning Journey on online accessibility.

Thanks to Douglas Dougan of Fluid Eye Productions for the work he put into creating this video How To Guide.

1 response to How To… Make Online Videos Accessible Using Captions and Subtitles

  1. Thank you for this. I have been looking for ways of making my work more accessible and now, might just start with captioning my videos online.