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Quickly Create Closed Captions | Elearning Accessibility Tips and Tricks

Closed captions are for EVERYONE, not just people with hearing disabilities. Are you someplace loud? Closed captions. Are you someplace where you have to be quiet? Closed captions. Have trouble understanding the speaker (maybe they talk too fast like me)? Closed captions.

Since I had a baby I have become a big fan of closed captions, even though that baby is now 3 years old. I can watch TV very quietly and still understand what’s going on. Even at full volume, closed captions help me understand what everyone is saying.

Closed captions are a wonderful feature! If you work somewhere that gets federal funding, you might be required to include closed captions. If you don’t, you might not legally be on the hook, but they’re still such a wonderful feature to have.

Adding closed captions doesn’t have to be very time-consuming. We’ll take a look at a few strategies for getting closed captions done in as little time as possible.

I’ve previously written about how to create closed captions. Most recently I covered closed captions in Adobe Captivate. Before that, I wrote about using YouTube to create closed captions. Below, you’ll find updated instructions for using YouTube.

If you are frequently creating screen recording or talking head videos with just your laptop or a webcam, you might be interested in my Best Quick Video Apps article, which includes info on how easy closed captions are! Spoiler: Loom for Education is my favorite. The automatic closed captions are AMAZING.

In any case, let’s take a moment to talk about what closed captions are, and how they differ from other types of captions.

Closed Captions vs. Subtitles vs. Open Captions

Let’s start with the difference between closed captions and subtitles. Closed captions are for people with hearing disabilities or for people that need to be able to understand what’s going on on screen because they can’t hear it for whatever reason. Like, say, you got a screaming baby in the background.

Subtitles are for people that don’t understand the language or are people that are learning the language. Or if you’re watching a foreign movie that is in a language you don’t speak, you will turn on the subtitles. Technically, those are subtitles, not closed captions. Subtitles just include the words that are being spoken, whereas closed captions will also include notations about other sounds besides speech, like music or sound effects.

There’s also a difference between closed captions and open captions. Yes, open captions are a thing.

Closed captions can be turned on and off by the user. So if the user is watching something on screen, they can choose to have the captions on, and they can choose to turn them off. In contrast, open captions are burned into the video – they cannot be turned off. You can’t turn them on, you can’t turn them off. And they can be very distracting potentially for users that don’t want to see them.

Closed captions in general offer better usability and accommodate user preference because you can choose whether to turn them on or off. However, if you’re using a platform that doesn’t allow for closed captions, open captions may be your only option. Open captions are better than no possibility of captions at all.

Add Closed Captions to All Videos

It is good practice to add closed captions to all videos. Now, if you watch a lot of my YouTube videos, you might be thinking, “Hey, Lindsay, I see the default captions, but a lot of the time they’re kind of, you know, poorly edited.” And yes, I am a hypocrite. I don’t add closed captions that are perfect to all of my videos because I just don’t have the time and I don’t get paid for most of this work! This article, and my YouTube videos, are made on my own personal time.

But if you are doing work for a government agency or for K through 12 or for higher education, it is important to add closed captions because that is required under Section 508 (federal law). If you are receiving government funding of some sort or serving some sort of public audience, you are likely legally mandated to add closed captions.

I do add closed captions to all of my teaching videos I use for my day job as a lecturer at a university. But personal stuff: I am sorry, I let it slide a little bit.

AI and Closed Captions

Oh, the promise of AI! Platforms that automatically add captions are using AI to identify the words spoken and add punctuation as needed. You’ve probably noticed that YouTube doesn’t include punctuation in its closed captions, and it’s just OK at identifying spoken words. It has a lot of trouble with my speech, in particular, because I talk fast.

AI technology for closed captions is getting better and better. The best AI options have a cost. The really most fantastic options are actual people writing the closed captions, but they are $$$.

I’ve heard good things about Otter AI, and they have a free version. Their selling point is that their widget will sit in on your Zoom/Team calls and transcribe speech. Their free version is limited to 30-minute calls, and 300 minutes overall in a month. That’s pretty good for free!

Both PowerPoint and Zoom now have built-in closed captions as well. PowerPoint’s are actually more like live subtitles that don’t get saved, and Zoom’s you have to turn on when you are live, you can’t add them after the fact (as far as I know).

As I mentioned above, Loom has the best automatic closed captions with no effort needed. They offer a free account to educators. Loom is definitely my go-to for daily, on-the-go quick videos.

Use YouTube to Create Closed Captions

Now, this point you might be going, all this is great, but I have existing video content and I just don’t have the ability to do closed captions. Well, I’ve got a short cut for you. Still takes a bit of work, but it’s much faster than creating captions from scratch.

If you have a video that needs captions added, you can use YouTube to create closed captions for free. Just upload a video. You can upload it as private if you plan to take it down.

Once uploaded, YouTube will process your video and automatically add captions. If your video is short, say, less than 10 minutes, it will only take a few minutes to process and add captions.

Now, you just have to fix them.

In your YouTube Channel studio, select your video, then look on the left sidebar for Subtitles:


You’ll see the automatically created subtitles file with the option to Duplicate and Edit:


Select Duplicate and Edit, and you’ll have a new window pop up where you can edit the captions. You have the choice to edit as text:


Or you can edit the timings as well:

It’s much easier just to stick to text view, generally, but you’ll find your own workflow.

You’ll see that the captions completely lack punctuation. Automatically generated closed captions as a technology are getting better and better. Some platforms do add punctuation now but you still have to double check and make sure it’s correct. YouTube still doesn’t, but it’s not bad.

I find that fixing captions takes about as twice as long as the video length. It’s not too much of a time investment for short videos, but certainly that could be prohibitive for hourlong or longer videos.

Once you finish editing, you’ll have to download the subtitle file. YouTube provides the subtitles in SRT format, also known as SubRip. This is the standard format for subtitles and works most places that accept subtitles. This is the one you want.

Or, Use a Transcript

If you upload a video and you have a transcript, you can upload that instead of editing the raw subtitles. YouTube will convert your transcript into closed captions. Anything with captions, YouTube will also have a transcript created as well, which is another feature that is often appreciated under Section 508.

If you are someone that works from a transcript, you can just pop that in and your closed captions will appear like magic.

Planning for Captions

I’m a big believer in speaking off-the-cuff as scripts always sound too stilted to me, and that creates a big challenge for closed captions, more than if I did use a script.

But, a little planning from the beginning will save a lot of time later on. Plan for captions, use a platform that will help you automate them, and you’ll find that including captions isn’t much extra work after all!

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