Accessible Technology

Creating Accessible Videos

Videos should be produced and delivered in ways that ensure that all members of the audience can access their content. An accessible video includes captions, a transcript, and audio description and is delivered in an accessible media player. See below for more details about each of these features. This information was written specifically for people producing or delivering video at the University of Washington (UW). Most is applicable to people outside the UW; when content is UW-specific that will be made clear in the instructions.


Captions are text versions of the audio content, synchronized with the video. They are essential for ensuring your video is accessible to students, employees, and members of the public who are deaf or hard of hearing. They also help non-native English speakers to understand the video, make it possible to search for content within the video, help all students learn the spelling of technical terms spoken in the video, and make it possible to generate an interactive transcript where users can click anywhere in the transcript to watch the video where that text is spoken.

There are two general approaches to captioning video:

  • Do it yourself. There are free tools available online that make it possible and easy to caption your own video. See Captioning your own video for free for additional information.
  • Outsource. Public higher education institutions in the State of Washington, including the University of Washington, have a contract with 3PlayMedia for captioning services. Their services include seamless integrations with YouTube, Panopto, and other platforms. For a list of discount prices and to sign up for an account, see 3PlayMedia’s Washington Higher Education Captioning Contract page.

The end product generated by both options is a caption file. Most caption files are plain text files with time codes indicating the start and stop times. However, there are various types of caption files with slight variations in their syntax. Once you have a caption file, the final step is to add this file to your video. How you do this, and the type of caption file supported, depends on where your video is hosted. For specific instructions, select one of the following options:

UW-IT Captioning Service

Accessible Technology Services (ATS) will caption a limited number of UW video presentations without charge through a service supported by UW-IT. Individuals, departments, and other units at the UW are encouraged to apply for funding to caption highly-visible, high-impact, multiple use, and/or strategic videos. Examples include:

  • Videos available to the public on a high-use website
  • Videos that will be used multiple times in a course
  • Videos developed by several faculty members to be used in several different classes

Additional funding is available for captioning high-use Panopto recordings.

If you are interested in applying for this service, please complete the UW Captioning Service Application.

NOTE: Captioning videos is required when students who are deaf enroll in your course; captioning in this case is provided by Disability Resources for Students (DRS). However, ATS promotes captioning as a teaching best practice that benefits many students, including English Language Learners, students who wish to see the spelling of technical terms, and students who need to search for specific content in a set of videos.

ATS is available to provide technical support or training to UW faculty and staff who wish to caption their video products and otherwise make IT accessible. Contact for assistance.

Audio Description

Audio description is a separate narrative audio track that describes important visual content, making it accessible to people who are unable to see the video. Individuals who are blind can understand much of a video’s content by listening to its audio. However, if a video includes content that is only presented visually (e.g., on-screen text or key actions that are not obvious from the audio) this visual information must be described in order to be accessible to people who are unable to see it.

Like captions, there are two general approaches to producing audio description for video:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Outsource.

Each of these approaches is described below. If you have questions about how to proceed, please contact Terrill Thompson at for a free consult.

Outsourcing Audio Description

The American Council of the Blind has compiled a comprehensive list of commercial services for producing audio description. The following subset of organizations provides description services at prices and turnaround times that seem to be a good match for higher education institutions:

The typical deliverables provided by professional audio description services are either an audio file with soundtrack and description mixed together, or an audio described version of the video, with the described audio replacing the original program audio. In either case, these can be made available to users by announcing that the video is “Also available with audio description”, where “audio description” is a link to the described version.

Do It Yourself

An alternative method for delivering audio description is a timed text file, similar to a closed caption file. For videos that have very little visual-only information, this can be a much simpler, lower cost method of adding a few brief instances of description. A common example is video that includes on-screen text that isn’t verbalized in the audio track, such as the name of the speaker. A timed text file can be created using the same free online tools that are used for creating closed caption tracks. For additional information about these tools, see Captioning your own video for free. Description tracks are essentially the same as caption tracks—short blocks of text with timestamps that synchronize the text with the video—but their function is different. They are intended to be read aloud by screen readers or media players, rather than voiced by a human narrator.

Playing video with text-based audio description requires a media player that supports this feature, such as Able Player, the open source media player developed at the UW.

Live Captioning and Description

If live events are simulcast over the Web, live captioning is needed in order to provide access to the audio content for audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing. Similarly, live description may be needed if key visual content will otherwise not be verbalized, such as in a dramatic production. At the University of Washington, these services are coordinated through the Disability Services Office or Disability Resources for Students. Please contact either of these offices to learn how to request these services.


A transcript is a text version of the media content. A transcript should capture all the spoken audio, plus on-screen text and descriptions of key visual information that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible without seeing the video. Transcripts make video content accessible to everyone, including people who are unable to view the video due to accessibility problems or technical limitations. They are also helpful for people who want to quickly scan or search a video’s content but do not have the time to watch the entire video.

If you have captioned your video, a transcript is available as one of the optional output formats produced by the closed captioning process. This is true of both the free online tools and the commercial service providers. To make the transcript available simply link to it from your web page, wherever you link to or display the associated video.

Able Player, the accessible open source media player developed at the UW, generates an interactive transcript automatically using the caption and/or description tracks. For additional information see the following section.

Choosing an Accessible Media Player

When choosing how to deliver your video, it is important to consider options that are fully accessible. Whether you are selecting a media player plugin or module for your website or selecting a service to host your videos, the following questions should be answered about the available options:

  1. Does the media player support closed captions?
  2. Does the media player support audio description in a way that enables users to toggle the narration on and off?
  3. Can the media player’s buttons and controls be operated without a mouse?
  4. Are the media player’s buttons and controls properly labeled so they can be operated by a blind person using a screen reader?
  5. Is the media player fully functional, including all of its accessibility features, across platforms and in all major browsers?

One player that satisfies all of these criteria is Able Player, a free, open-source media player that was developed at the UW with accessibility in mind. For additional information see Able Player on GitHub.