How To Add Closed Captioning and Why You Should | Compliant

Accessibility should be of primary importance for anyone operating, creating, or curating content in the digital environment. Accessible design allows individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the content on the web.

Choosing an accessible color palette for your website is one example. Ensuring that the complex images on your website have alternate texts is another. Providing closed captioning for the multimedia content is also of equal importance.

Closed captions for video content are extremely important for viewers and users with auditory impairments, like deafness or low hearing. Multimedia without captions or subtitles makes the content completely inaccessible for some; the opposite of an all user-friendly resource.

What Is Closed Captioning?

Captioning refers to the process of converting audio content into texts and displaying the text on a screen, whether it be a monitor or other display device. The audio content could come from video players or other forms of media, such as television. But, for a captioning service to work on television, it must be equipped with a special device called a decoder.

Transcribing words or spoken dialogue is not the only thing captioning does. The captioning process might also include sound effects or music descriptions.

Captioning can be broken down into two categories: Closed and open captions. These distinctions generally apply to videos that are accessed on the internet.

  • Closed captions – These only appear when the user agent supports them (e.g., media viewer player or video platform). The responsibility to enable closed captions rests on the user. In other words, these are not automatic captions; they must be turned on (e.g., CC button or icon).
  • Open captions – These captions are part of the video. The transcript text is burned into the video itself. This has the advantage of being supported by all video players, no matter the video platform. Open captions can eliminate inconsistencies that could show up across different video players.

One major disadvantage for open captions is that they are not ideal for reading software, e.g., screen readers used by those with visual impairments. They offer no separate text or transcript to read by the screen readers since they are burned into the video itself.

Captions can also be live. Generally, live captions are done by professional real-time captioners. These are referred to as Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) providers. This captioning process can be done remotely or in person.

Also, in some cases, a caption file or transcript file is used by some video media players to provide users with interactive transcripts. These are a bit more intuitive than standard closed captioning. Interactive transcripts highlight text phrases as they are spoken. Users can even click the text in the transcript and be directed to that point in the video.

Is Closed Captioning Different From Subtitles?

Many people often confuse closed captioning with subtitles. They indeed overlap in many ways — e.g. they both display on a screen — but they are not exactly the same thing. Sometimes, however, the terms captions and subtitles are used interchangeably, especially internationally.  

As mentioned, captions generally refer to a text version of audio content of various forms of media. These can be either closed or open. Typically, captions are transcribed in the language of the original content itself; this is where the main difference lies.

Subtitles are also transcripts of texts; however, they are generally language translations for those who do not speak the language used in the media. The best example of this would be subtitles for foreign films. But, you can add subtitles to other forms of media too.

Also, adding subtitles assumes the viewer can hear the audio, even if they don’t understand what is being said. In effect, subtitles are generally used to help someone understand the language being spoken, while captions are used to transcribe the audio, including dialogue and sound effects.

Both closed captioning and subtitles are used to boost viewer engagement, especially in social media. For example, Facebook’s auto-captioning tool helped boost video ad engagement by 12 percent. Also, using caption and subtitle files is a good practice for search engine optimization (SEO) for driving up engagement in Google search engines.

Why Is It Important to Have Closed Captioning on My Website?

While captioning is a great practice for SEO, it is perhaps more important for providing access to content, video accessibility in particular. Captioning ensures audiovisual material is accessible for those with auditory and visual disabilities. It allows them equal access to communication and information technologies.  

That is one reason why closed captioning is so important for websites with audiovisual content. According to health statistics, approximately 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.

Legislation and Accessibility

Closed captioning is also a matter of law in some cases. There are a few different pieces of legislation that cover the area of website accessibility.

For example, the American’s with Disabilities Act is effectively an anti-discrimination law to protect those with disabilities. It affords them equal access in the public sphere; this can include informational websites.

Also, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act makes accessibility for electronic communication and information technologies for federal agencies or federally-funded entities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the federal agency that sets the standards for closed captioning for broadcasters in the U.S.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines  

The standards for web accessibility are found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These feature captions and subtitles standards and requirements for compliance when it comes to audio content for websites. It features guidelines for:

  • Audio-only content, both prerecorded or live (e.g., podcasts)
  • Video with audio content, prerecorded or live
  • Video-only content, prerecorded or live

To summarize, captioning should be synchronized (appear simultaneously as audio), equivalent (accuracy to spoken words or audio information), and accessible or readily available.

How Do I Add Closed Captioning to My Site?

Adding closed captioning to your website depends on the interface and the video manager you are using. Different video managers have their unique processes for adding closed captioning, e.g., a YouTube video.

Popular platforms like Vimeo and Youtube have their procedures to upload and download the content; the same goes for adding captions. So, understanding your preferred platform is the first step.

Use External Softwares

Some opt to use external software for adding closed captioning. For example, services like 3PLAY MEDIA allow you to create a WebVTT file (vtt file) for captioning HTML5 videos.

Amara is a service that allows edits to different media files for subtitles.

Try Auto Translations

Some video platforms offer autotranslations. For example, YouTube provides an auto-translation feature for videos that are captioned.

It works in tandem with the Google Translate service. Of course, there are other services that can do the same, but these come with an extra cost.

Do It Yourself

Many people simply choose to add the captioning themselves manually. The benefit of this is the low cost. Plus, many tools and workflow options allow you to fit a variety of captioning needs. But, it can be a labor-intensive process.

Transcribe the Video

Again, platforms like YouTube offer ways to transcribe video audio to text. Also, some features on Mac allow you to transcribe audio, and it will sync and record directly into Word, depending on the file type.

The most labor-intensive option is manually transcribing audio and embedding it into the video.

Make an .SRT File

If you choose to do it yourself, you will have to create an SRT file that supports closed captioning texts. Again, each operating system has its procedure. Make sure the text font is an accessible one.

Upload the File with Your Video

Lastly, you will have to sync the SRT file with the video. Usually, this can be done within the creator studio of your preferred video manager.


Accessibility to the content on the internet is becoming increasingly important in our day. Information is shared across a wide array of mediums, including video and audio. Closed captioning can provide equal access to audiovisual content for those with disabilities.

Closed captioning refers to the processing of converting audio content into readable texts and displays the text on the screen. It is used in visual broadcasting as well as videos online. It provides texts for spoken dialogue and context for other sound effects within videos.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide a framework for best practices when it comes to captioning content. Adding closed captioning to your audiovisual content ensures your website is providing equal access to all users.