What Is Closed Captioning and Its Benefits to Accessibility?

What Is Closed Captioning

Make Your Videos Accessible to All: A Step-by-Step Guide to Closed Captioning What Is Closed Captioning?

Ever wondered about those text captions you see on some videos? These are called closed captions, and they’re a helpful way to make videos easier to understand for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Closed captions are basically a written version of the spoken words in a video, displayed in time with what’s happening on screen.
These captions aren’t just the dialogue, though. They can also include information about who’s speaking and any important sounds you hear in the video, like music or sound effects. This helps everyone watching understand the full picture.
You’ll usually see a symbol that looks like “CC” on a video player to let you know if closed captions are available.

Benefits of Closed Captioning for Videos

  1. Helping People with Hearing Loss: Closed captions are a major help for people who have trouble hearing. With captions, they can understand the audio in videos, allowing them to enjoy educational content, movies, TV shows, and online videos just like everyone else.
  2. Staying Focused on the Video: Captions can actually help viewers stay on track with what's happening in the video. They see the words along with hearing them, which can be especially useful for people who might get distracted easily.
  3. Reaching a Larger Audience: By including captions, you open your videos up to a wider audience. This includes people with hearing loss, viewers who speak a different language, and people watching in places where sound isn't an option. Captions are a great way to make sure more people can see and understand your videos.
  4. Boosting Search Results: Search engines can't understand what's being said in videos, but they can read text. Closed captions get written down, and search engines can use that text to help people find your videos more easily.

Closed Captions vs. Open Captions

Closed captions offer users the option to customize their viewing experience, an important aspect of digital accessibility. Recognizing that each visitor to your website has different skills and needs, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t practical.

In contrast, open captions are fixed and can’t be changed by the user. They’re embedded within video files like any other visual element, limiting user flexibility. This presents challenges in ensuring inclusivity for diverse audiences:
  • Some users, especially those with hearing-related neurodiversity, may find captions distracting and may need the option to turn them off.
  • Closed caption files can display text in multiple languages, making content accessible to different language communities simultaneously.
  • Viewers with visual impairments may prefer larger text captions, which are only available with closed captions through user-initiated resizing.
  • Assistive technologies, like screen readers, may struggle to interpret text within images, including open captions, while closed caption files are easily accessible.
Considering these factors, closed captions are generally better for making content accessible. However, it’s important to have clear controls for turning captions on and off. If closed captions aren’t an option, open captions can still help, especially on platforms that don’t support closed captions. But closed captions should be the main choice for accessibility.

How to Enable Closed Captions?

Here’s a breakdown of how to enable closed captions on various platforms:


  1. Start a video and look for the gear icon (Settings) on the video player bar.
  2. Click the gear icon and select "Subtitles/CC".
  3. Choose your preferred caption language and style from the available options.

Streaming Services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.):

  1. While using a streaming service, access the settings menu. This might be through your account settings or within the currently playing video.
  2. Look for options related to "Subtitles & Captions" or "Accessibility".
  3. Enable captions and choose your preferred language and style from the available options.

Video Players (VLC Media Player, etc.):

  1. Within the video player interface, look for a captions icon or a menu option related to captions.
  2. Enable captions and choose the available caption track (if there are multiple options).

Social Media Platforms (Facebook, etc.):

  1. Unfortunately, caption availability depends on the video itself.
  2. If a video has captions, look for a captions icon or menu option within the video player.
  3. Enable captions if available.

How to Add Closed Captions to Your Videos?

Need to add captions to your videos? You can do it yourself by following these steps.

Step 1: Write Down What's Said

First, you’ll need a written version of what’s spoken in your video. This is called a transcript. You can either write it out yourself by listening to the video or use a tool like Riverside to get an automatic version (which you might need to edit for accuracy).

Step 2: Save the Captions in a Special Format

Once you have your transcript, you’ll need to save it in a specific format that video players understand. This format is called an SRT file. Most programs can save your transcript as an SRT file, which is generally the best choice for adding captions to videos. You can also use an SRT file to make any corrections or add notes about sounds in the video if needed.

Step 3: Putting it all Together (Combining Video and Captions)

The final step is to connect your captions with the video itself. There are two ways to do this:
  1. Burning the Captions: This permanently adds the captions to the video itself, so they'll always be displayed when someone watches it. You can do this using video editing software.
  2. Uploading Separate Files: Some platforms let you upload your video and caption files separately. This keeps the captions separate from the video, but it also means viewers need to turn them on if they want to see them.

Open Vs. Closed Captions in WCAG

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are divided into success criteria, each addressing specific accessibility issues. Two criteria focus on the use of captions:

  • WCAG Success Criterion (SC) 1.2.2, "Captions (Prerecorded)," states that all prerecorded audio-visual content should include captions, except for media used as an alternative to existing text, which should be properly labeled.
  • WCAG SC 1.2.4, "Captions (Live)," requires captions for live videos and presentations.
It’s important to note that WCAG considers SC 1.2.2 as Level A conformance and SC 1.2.4 as Level AA. Most accessibility experts recommend striving for Level AA compliance with WCAG, meaning it’s advisable to meet both criteria.
The supporting documents for these Success Criteria offer various “sufficient techniques” for compliance, including both open and closed captions. However, WCAG does not favor one over the other.
In describing Technique G93: Providing Open (Always Visible) Captions, WCAG emphasizes providing access for individuals with hearing impairments without imposing caption viewing on those who can hear.
Similarly, WCAG’s guidance on Technique G87: Providing Closed Captions emphasizes this goal while ensuring that individuals without hearing impairments are not required to view the captions.
It’s essential to make your videos accessible to as many people as possible, including those with diverse abilities. Closed captions, as endorsed by WCAG, offer flexibility to users, expanding the reach of your content.

The Future of Closed Captioning

Closed captioning has some interesting things in store for the future. As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) keep getting better, closed captioning systems will become more accurate and work more smoothly. By including these new technologies in how they create content, companies of all kinds can make sure accessibility remains an important goal.

It’s important to remember that closed captioning for videos isn’t just about following the rules or meeting legal requirements. It’s an important part of making sure everyone irrespective of their abilities/disabilities can enjoy digital content equally. Whether it’s using automatic captioning tools, AI solutions, or simply thinking carefully about the difference between open captions and closed captions, content creators need to consider how their work affects all viewers, no matter what their abilities are. When all these things come together, it’s a big step forward in making the digital world accessible to everyone.

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Closing Thoughts

Closed captions are a powerful tool for promoting inclusivity in the digital world. They not only benefit viewers with hearing loss but also enhance focus, expand audience reach, and improve search engine optimization. While both open and closed captions have their place, closed captions offer greater user control and accessibility for diverse audiences. As technology advances, closed captioning will become even more sophisticated, making video content truly accessible to everyone. So, the next time you create a video, remember the power of closed captions – it’s a simple step that makes a big difference.


Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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