Captions, transcripts, and descriptive audio can be used for a wide range of purposes by people with and without disabilities. For deaf or hearing impaired users, captions and transcripts are essential for understanding video and audio content. Captions and transcripts are also very helpful for users in loud places or have auditory processing difficulties, they don’t just apply to those who are disabled. Accurate transcripts allow for audio and visual media to be translated across a wide variety of languages, including sign languages and certain dialects. Audio descriptions help explain visual context for visually-impaired viewers.

  • Transcripts are helpful to the browser. When searching for a key phrase or concept, the browser can read the transcript of a video rather than just the title or description to present more relevant content. Transcription of videos on one’s site can increase site traffic.
  • Some hard-of-hearing people like to listen to what they can of the audio and have captions to fill in what they can’t hear. This balances comprehension and interpretation so the user doesn’t have to compromise on their experience.
  • People can have difficulty processing auditory information. In these cases, transcripts can be helpful by allowing a user to read along at their own pace.
  • Some people have difficulty focusing and comprehending auditory or visual information when there are changing or distracting visuals. Here, transcripts can be more important than captions because a transcript will not be played over the distracting visuals like captions.
  • It is important to include as many options as possible on each piece of media for people who like to use multiple accessibility features at once.
  • Some hearing-impaired people prefer sign language captions to text. Facial expressions and the size of signing can aid in the interpretation of tone and emphasis.
  • Captions are helpful for everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions


There are three different types of captions; open, closed, and live. Captions should not be confused with subtitles. Captions are designed to include important sound effects and background, subtitles only transcribe the dialogue. Autoplay content needs captions to effectively convey content.

  • Open captions are captions that are always visible, they don’t need to be turned on. Open captions are not accessible for screen readers because they are burned into the media. If your media is going to have open captions, there should be a readable transcript available as well.
  • Closed captions can be turned on and off by the viewer with a button on the player. Closed captions can become inaccessible if the button is not intuitive, either it is hard to find, too small to click, or difficult to turn on by keyboard actions. 
  • Live captions are helpful for real-time events. They can often be less accurate because they interpret on the spot.
  • Captions can be produced in any language, including sign language.
  • Captions don’t need to be provided for things conveying information already available to the audience. If the content is just a media alternative to the text, the media must be labeled as an alternative so users with hearing impairments know the content was already covered.
  • Captions are different from subtitles, as subtitles do not include non-speech content. Some regions use the term “subtitle” interchangeably with “caption”, in which case only one should be provided to not confuse users.


Do you offer transcripts for your website’s videos? Most people know the importance of captions, but did you know that screen readers can’t readily access captions or even access them at all? Providing a transcript is a great way to make your media content available to DeafBlind users who interact with content through a braille or screen reader.

An audio-visual transcript should include all necessary sounds and dialogue as well as descriptions of the visuals. This kind of transcript should read like a novel so that the reader can imagine the content. 

  • Transcripts make it easier to lift content for testimonials. Being able to copy-paste the audio content as text can increase productivity for users and usability for the source.
  • If a screenplay was made for the content, this can be a good place to start. To use the screenplay as a transcript it must be corrected to match the final production to account for discrepancies.
  • If at any point in the video there is an interactive element (e.g. related video links on screen or a survey link displayed as a button in a video), then the transcript will provide hyperlinks to replicate the functionality.

Audio Descriptions

  • Descriptive audio is used to aid people who are blind or visually impaired in accessing visual content in a different way.
  • During existing pauses in the dialogue, audio description provides necessary information about the actions, characters, scene changes, setting, and on-screen text that aren’t described or spoken in the main soundtrack.
  • Under Success Criterion 1.2.7, audio descriptions can be extended if there are not sufficient pauses in the original audio by periodically freezing content to insert further description. Video players should allow this feature to be turned on and off or two versions should be provided to maximize the experience of all users.
  • If all the information in the video track is already provided in the audio track, no description is necessary. For Level AA organizations, audio description or alternative description conforming to Criterion 1.2.3 is required, extended audio options are optional.

Transcripts and audio descriptions should include all necessary elements from the:

  • Actions and expressions of actors
  • Visual context
  • Setting
  • On-screen writing; like book titles, mail, name cards, etc.
  • Other important visual information; clothing, food, cars, streets, etc.
  • Non-speech sounds; including laughter, off-screen voices, etc.
  • Background noises; birds, cars honking, sirens, etc.
  • All dialogue

Quality Assurance for Captioning

Auto-generated captions are often not sufficient enough to support accommodations as per WCAG guidelines. Though auto-captioning technology is always improving, it is not yet accurate enough without editing. To ensure your captions are accessible, consider editing auto-generated captions or a professional captioning service. In almost all platforms, captions cannot be changed by a site visitor. Consider offering a way to contact the creator so that if users find errors in your captions they can be reported and fixed.

Auto-captioning for YouTube



Automatic captions are available in Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese. 

To add auto-captions
  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. From the left menu, select Subtitles.
  3. Click the video that you'd like to edit.
  4. Click Add Language and select your language.
  5. Under subtitles, click Add.
To edit or remove auto-captions
  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. From the left menu, select Subtitles.
  3. Click the video you want to add captions or subtitles to.
  4. Under Subtitles, click the three-dot More icon next to the subtitles you want to edit.
  5. Review automatic captions and edit or remove any parts that haven't been properly transcribed.
To add your own captions

Make sure the file you want to upload is in a YouTube supported format.

  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. From the left menu, select Subtitles.
  3. Click the video that you'd like to edit.
  4. Select Upload File.
  5. Choose between With Timing or Without Timing, then select Continue.
  6. Choose a file to upload.
  7. Select Save

Testing for Accessibility

To review text alternatives for accessibility, you must read through the transcripts and captions. Check to make sure the text matches the audio. Transcripts should include a text description of what is happening visually in the video as well. Captions should include necessary background sounds. Captions should also be reviewed for timing. Are the captions being displayed at the right time for the audio that transcribe?

Audio descriptions can be tested by listening to the descriptions and making sure they are audible over background noise. Descriptions should be clear and concise in describing necessary information. Look for important information that may be missing. If there is information missing and the natural audio breaks are not sufficient enough for further commentary, consider switching to an extended audio description.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria

To meet AA Level, video content should conform to the following criterion.

  • 1.2.1 Prerecorded Video-only: Either an alternative for time-based media or an audio track is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded video-only content.
  • 1.2.2 Prerecorded Captions: Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.


For more information on the purposes of video accessibility and who accessibility benefits, consider these sources.

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