Student communicating with female staff member through assistive technology
A male student communicating via sign language to a female staff member
Dog guiding a visually impaired student

Captioning and Describing Videos

Captions and Descriptions: What's the difference?

Captions are text files that follow what is being verbally said in an audio or video file.  Captions are used by many individuals for understanding audio information.  Captions can be turned on if they are available within the video itself.  They may need to be edited for accuracy.  Often captions are made available in "real time" during lectures and other presentations. "It is important that the captions are  (1) synchronized and appear at approximately the same time as the audio is delivered, (2) equivalent and equal in content to that of the audio, including speaker identification and sound effects; and (3) accessible and readily available to those who need or want them." (DCMP Captioning Key)

Descriptions are additional audio information and narration that describe what is occurring on the screen, for individuals who are unable to see the video display.  The descriptions are best included in the audio track of the video when it is created.  Descriptions can be added after the video is created, but may compete with or interrupt the flow of the audio being conveyed.  A good resource for locating audio describe videos and more information is the Audio Description Project.

Finding Human Transcribed or Captioned Videos

To be sure you find human transcribed captioned videos on YouTube, follow this easy search technique:

  1. Enter your search term into the YouTube search field.
  2. Add ,CC (that's a comma then the letters CC)
  3. Hit Enter or click the magnifying glass icon

You can also put your search term in the search window and hit Enter. Once a list of videos is available, click the Filters button to the left.

Click Closed caption/Subtitles and the available captioned videos will show.

Google owns YouTube, but they also offer a separate Advanced Video Search over the entire Web.


Special Cases

If music or other audio tracks are included in your video, you will need to caption those time periods accordingly.  It may be necessary to watch the video and note the time count to be able to accurately pinpoint where to start the captioning.

Use square brackets to designate background sounds.  For example, [music] or [laughter]

Add >> to identify when speakers begin speaking or when there is a change in speaker

General Notes and Resources

Captions are just text transcript files with time codes identifying when that phrase is to appear on the screen. While you can create your own caption file using software such as Camtasia Relay, you can use a video platform such as YouTube or Amara. You Describe is a free tool that allows the addition of audio description to YouTube videos

Added benefits of these tools are that they provide keyboard and screen reader accessible video players, and video streaming at the viewer's optimal resolution for their Internet connection.


Able Player (Fully Cross-browser HTML5 media player that can be used with both audio and video)

Accessibility Metadata Project: Searching for Closed Captioned Videos

YouDescribe (for video descriptions)