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Video Accessibility Best Practices

By Andy Dykstra | Video Production Strategist

Video is the most engaging form of online content. Period. And in the opinion of this video creator, it’s also the best way to communicate your message. With such a huge audience, your brand's videos should look and sound great, right? Similar, videos should be as accessible as possible—this means adding captions.

Traditionally, accessibility is something that companies have cared about in terms of their websites, but this extends to online video content as well. 

In many situations, video captions are required by law, for both public and private companies. Netflix now includes captions after a 2012 lawsuit. While I am extremely unqualified to give legal advice, adding captions is not just about following new laws, it is about being inclusive—it's courteous, it increases your audience size, and it's the best way to make sure your message reaches individuals of all abilities. It's also easy. So here are several tips about adding captions and a few best practices you can incorporate into your workflow.

What are Closed Captions?

Captions are a transcript of your video’s audio track, displayed in time on your video. There are two main types of captions: open and closed captions. 

You’ve probably heard of closed captions. Since the 1980s, they’ve been broadcast alongside television programming, overlaying text in time with the dialog and sounds on the screen. The viewer has the choice to see or hide these captions.

With online and streaming video, viewers still have the option to see closed captions. Look for the “CC” on the video player’s controls.

So as a video creator, how do you create closed captions?

This screen grab displays the Caption Layer feature in Adobe Premier. It shows how to export the captioning to display with your video.
Adobe Premier makes it easy to generate captions and edit for accuracy.

How to add captions to your video

Invest in Video Editing Software 

You can use most software to create and edit captions quite easily. The software allows you to type them in yourself, import them from a transcript, or even use cloud based technologies to transcribe your audio tracks into text—i.e. Adobe’s Premier’s Speech to Text functionality  added in 2021. Once you generate your caption track, make sure that it is accurate and in sync. This isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades; close isn’t good enough. Omitting “ums” and “ahs” is fine, but captions need to accurately reflect what’s being said in your video.

With your caption track complete, you’re ready to export. Many formats exist, but .SRT files seem to be the most universal. The file is plain text, just formatted very specifically. 

This screen grab shows how Facebook and YouTube have built in auto generated captioning software to utilize for videos.
Utilize a video service platforms' built-in functionality to make, check, and correct auto-generated captions.

Use a Video Service Platform’s Auto-Generated Captions

Platforms like YouTube and Facebook can also generate captions for you automatically. It’s a process that improves in accuracy all the time, but will still need some help. Use the platform’s interface to check and correct the captions that are generated.

5 Closed Caption Tips

1. Keep Lines Short (40 Characters or Less) 

 All platforms have different character count recommendations, but generally, shorter lines are better.

2. Use Two Lines at Most 

Two lines is the limit in most video players. This gives a comfortable pace where captions don’t change too frequently, nor give too much to read at once.

3. Sync Captions to the Actual Audio 

Don’t edit or omit words for a better read; captions should match the audio exactly.

4. Include Cues for Sounds Beyond Dialog 

 Help give context with additions like [music], [laughter], [crash], or any other sound that adds to the understanding of what’s happening in the video.

5. Format for Clarity and Accuracy

Punctuate, capitalize, italicize new or emphasized words, and spell check (twice)!

Screen reader
Making videos accessible will mean those using screen reader equipment can hear your message.

Go Further with Descriptive Video

If you’re ready for the video accessibility gold medal, consider descriptive video. Meant for your visually impaired audience, descriptive video is a separate track of audio that adds a verbal explanation of what’s happening, including scene descriptions. When viewers can’t rely on visuals, a narrator fills in the gaps instead. 

 Descriptive video needs to be thoughtfully planned out because it can be tricky to describe the visual information in your video fast enough to keep pace with your standard edit. Ensure that what you write concisely and accurately matches your video, and that your tone makes the video enjoyable.

It’s not just checking the accessibility box, it’s genuinely making this version as entertaining and informative as you would the original edit.

Descriptive video is rare, and poorly supported by the big content players. So if this is the route you plan, it may be worth enlisting a professional service to do it right.

If your message is worth sharing, it’s worth making accessible.

Click Rain can help your business reach a wider audience with compelling video content. (We include captions on all our video products, of course.) Need assistance? Get in touch with our video team to get started.

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