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UDL On Campus · Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education



Captions provide support for understanding audio. They are a vital part of providing access to content on television, DVDs, online streamed media, and web conferencing.

Learn about Best Practices for captioning, how to create captions in Do it Yourself, and explore additional Resources about captions.

Best Practices

The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) states that quality captioning must be accurate, consistent, clear, readable, and equal.

  • Captions assist viewers in the process of reading and support visual content by presenting text of spoken dialogue in a video.
  • Captions are beneficial for new and struggling readers, learners of a new language, and people with hearing loss and speech processing difficulties. They also increase search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Captions should be accurate; uncensored; and easy to find, turn on or off, and read.

The types of captions used for media intended for web or commercial broadcast are described below.

Open Captions (OC)

  • Open captions are encoded as a permanent part of a video and may include all audio cues.
  • Open captions ensure audio accessibility no matter how they are viewed (television, cinema, DVD, Blu-Ray, web).
  • Formatting should be consistent with guidelines outlined by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

The The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) has a library of over 4,000 video titles that include both open captions and/or audio description. Outside of DCMP, many open captioned titles can be found on YouTube, Vimeo, and other video streaming web sites where users have uploaded their own open captioned content created in professional editing programs or with specialized captioning software.

Screenshot of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan open captioned interview

Closed Captions (CC)

  • Closed captions can be turned on and off and may include all audio cues.
  • Prepared scripts may be needed for captioning.
  • Formatting should be consistent with guidelines outlined by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

Videos with closed captions can be seen on caption-enabled media players for the computer such as QuickTime, Windows Media Player, VLC, and Adobe Flash Player. There are many media players online that have closed captioning functionality where users customize their captioning display, including YouTube and Hulu Plus. Our Do it Yourself section lists tools that assist in the creation of specialized caption files to upload to these media players to get captions.

On YouTube, users will find a button that indicates closed captioning (CC). Please keep in mind that there is a difference between automatic captioning and closed captioning. Automatic captions are generated through YouTube’s voice recognition technology, but closed captions are created and uploaded as specialized files and synced in YouTube.

Metadata form with closed captions


  • Subtitles are written translations of a spoken or signed language, provided as either open or closed captions and generally do not include audio cues.
  • Subtitles may include non-spoken content shown on screen, such as letters, telegrams, street signs, marquees, etc.
  • When creating subtitles, follow captioning guidelines.

TED's prolific library of talks include subtitles in multiple languages. In some cases, these videos have interactive transcripts.

Aimee Mullins’ TED talk with German subtitles

Types of captions used for live streaming (webcasts), web conferencing, and in-person instruction and meetings are described below:

Real-Time Captions

  • Real-time captions are verbatim, uncensored transcription of audio of live events that are created during an event as it takes place.
  • Real-time captions must be created by professional, experienced stenographers, court reporters, captioners, or CART providers.
  • Providing real-time captions is an exemplary best practice to employ whenever feasible for live events such as webcasts, web conferencing, and televised programs.

Webcasts and web conferencing often use different media players that may or may not allow display of real-time captioning. Our resource on webcasts and web conferencing explains this further and lists platforms that support real-time captions.

Real time captions explain a scientific process.

Do it Yourself

The task of making audio accessible shouldn’t have to feel overwhelming. Below is a select list of several user-friendly resources to caption and subtitle videos.

Key: CC: closed captions, OC: open captions, S: subtitles, F: free, $: paid, D: download, W: web

Amara (CC, S, F, W)
Amara is a free, web-based program for creating subtitles. The site promotes and permits collaborative work. Subtitles created at the Amara web site can be linked to videos uploaded to other web sites (such as YouTube). Subtitles can be created and viewed in approximately 60 languages.

Camtasia (CC, OC, S, F, $, D)
Camtasia is a commercial screen capture program (Camtasia Studio for Windows and Camtasia for Mac for Macs) that creates video as a hybrid between a slide show (such as may be created with PowerPoint) and traditional video, where computer screen content, audio, overlaid visuals, and other computer "desktop activity" can be recorded and viewed as a video.

CaptionTube (CC, S, F, W)
CaptionTube is a free, web-based tool specifically for adding captions to YouTube videos. Users must have a YouTube account and a CaptionTube account. Videos uploaded to YouTube are imported to CaptionTube and captioned there in one or more languages. Captions are visible to viewers of these YouTube videos after permission to connect the two has been granted by the account holder.

M4V Captions for Mobile Devices (CC, OC, S, F, D)
WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) offers a short series of online tutorials for captioning M4V format videos, primarily for use with Apple devices including iPods, iPads, and iPhones.

MAGpie (CC, OC, S, F, D)
Created by WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), MAGpie is a free tool for creating captions and audio descriptions for video.

MovieCaptioner (CC, OC, S, $, D)
MovieCaptioner is a commercial program for Windows and Macs for creating video captions. It can import and export text files as well as SCC, STL, XML, SRT, QT Text, Adobe Encore, and SUB formats caption files; export of other file formats are also available (for example, HTML, JW Player, Flash).

QuickTime (CC, OC, S, F, $, D)
QuickTime is a media player developed by Apple, Inc. for recording and watching videos on Windows and Macs. There are two major versions: QuickTime 7 Pro and QuickTime X (QuickTime 10). At present, QuickTime 7 Pro is more widely used for creating captions and subtitles.

Windows Media Player (CC, OC, S, F, D)
Windows Media Player is a media player developed by Microsoft that displays videos with captions and subtitles. Captions and subtitles that are supported by this player can be created using Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange (SAMI) files, Windows Media Encoder, or Microsoft Expression Encoder, which are all free to download from Microsoft’s web site.

YouTube (CC, OC, S, F, W)
YouTube is a free, video sharing web site that streams videos with automatic and user-generated captions and/or subtitles. Upload a pre-existing transcript with or without timecodes or caption/subtitle videos within the tool. YouTube’s voice-recognition technology helps sync transcripts without timecodes, but it is recommended to edit them further for timing and visual presentation after the initial sync. Note that YouTube’s automatically generated captions and translations currently remain in development and are not yet of high quality.


Captions are words that are displayed on a screen to describe audio content.


Audio, in this context, is a digital form or representation of sound. It is a format that stores, copies, and produces sound according to the data in its file(s).


Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.

audio description

An audio description is a narration of visual media that is designed to relay the information primarily to blind or low vision users.


Metadata is information that refers to one or more pieces of information that can exist as separate physical forms (data about data). Any description can be considered metadata. In the information technology world the term is often used to indicate data which refers to digital resources available across a network.


Metadata is information that refers to one or more pieces of information that can exist as separate physical forms (data about data). Any description can be considered metadata. In the information technology world the term is often used to indicate data which refers to digital resources available across a network.


A transcript provides a written version of content that has been presented in an audio, visual, or audiovisual format.


HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language) is the lingua franca for publishing hypertext on the World Wide Web. It is a non-proprietary format based on SGML, and can be created and processed by a wide range of tools from simple to complex.