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Captions provide a text version of a video’s spoken audio, plus a description of important sounds, synchronized with the video.  Typically users can toggle captions on or off using a CC button on their media player. Captions must be available in order to ensure audio content is accessible to people from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. They also help people for whom English is a second language, people who process information better if presented in multiple modes (sound and text), people who are unfamiliar with the vocabulary used in the video, people who have the sound turned off on their devices, and people in noisy environments who are unable to hear the sound from their devices. Also, in supporting media players, captions make it possible for users to search the video and can be repurposed as an interactive transcript so users can jump directly to particular points in the video from the transcript text.

This is one of several features that are needed for making videos accessible. For additional information, see our IT Accessibility Checklist page on Audio and video.

Captioning video yourself

There are free tools available online that make it possible and easy to caption your own video. Examples include:

The process for creating captions using each tool is approximately the same:

  1. Upload the video to the web (most services can caption any video as long as it has a public URL, including videos on YouTube). To keep the video private during the captioning process, don’t publish its URL (YouTube offers this as one of its privacy options).
  2. Provide the video’s URL to the captioning service. Some services also support uploading a video directly to their site.
  3. Use the service’s captioning tool to watch the video and transcribe it. Caption text is displayed in real-time on the video as you type.
  4. Review and edit the captions to be sure they’re accurate and easy to follow. The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) provides a Captioning Key with guidelines for effective captioning.
  5. Download the captions as a caption file in the appropriate format for your needs.

The end product generated by this process is a caption file. Most caption files are plain text files with time codes indicating the start and stop times for each caption. However, there are various types of caption files with slight variations in their syntax (e.g., SRT, WebVTT, TTML). The type of file you need depends on your media player or video hosting service.

Also, many video hosting platforms provide their own caption editors.

Outsourcing captioning

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.

UW-IT Captioning Service

Accessible Technology Services (ATS) will caption a limited number of UW videos 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

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 videos and otherwise make IT accessible. See our Help page for details.

Captions in YouTube

YouTube automatically generates captions for most videos when they’re uploaded. It does so using automatic speech recognition technology, and the captions are rarely accurate enough to be used as an accessibility solution. However, if their accuracy is decent and captions can be perfected with only a few minor corrections, the easiest way to correct them is to do so directly in YouTube.  For instructions see YouTube’s help page on how to Edit Captions.

Depending on the accuracy of YouTube’s auto-captions, the length of the video, and other factors, it may be more cost-effective to get the video captioned through other means, as described at the top of this page. The end product will be a caption file, which can be uploaded to YouTube by the video’s account owner.  For instructions on how to upload captions, see YouTube’s help page on how to Add your own closed captions.

Captions in Vimeo

Unlike YouTube, Vimeo does not include machine-generated automatic captions.  However, they do provide the means for uploading captions that are obtained through other means. For instructions on how to upload captions to Vimeo, see Vimeo’s help page on Captions and Subtitles.

Captions in Panopto

The UW offers lecture capture services through Panopto.

Faculty, staff, and students with disabilities can submit an accommodation request to caption Panopto videos by contacting the UW Disability Services Office or Disability Resources for Students. If the accommodation request is approved, all costs of captioning services are covered by the UW.

If there are no active accommodation requests, Panopto will generate automatic speech recognition captions by default. The captions may need to be edited. For more information, see the following resources:

Captions in Zoom

For captions in Zoom, see our dedicated Captions in Zoom page.

Captions on Facebook

For captions on Facebook, see our Social media page.