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Accessibility - Web Video Captioning Technologies

Making Web Video Accessible


Updated September 23, 2011

Companies, individuals, federal agencies, and organizations that put video on the web have absolutely no excuse for not making their videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. The options available for adding captions or subtitles to web video have sharply increased.

Automatic Captioning

In late 2009, Google introduced automatic captioning for YouTube. All a video creator had to do was upload the script text, and Google's technology would automatically create the captions. Viewers could see these captions by clicking the "up" arrow in the YouTube video screen, which displayed a cc option.

Subtitling Websites

Several websites allow you to add subtitles to your videos online. Some of these sites are BubblePly, and Overstream. These are community subtitling sites, meaning that they allow you to add subtitles and post your videos online for others to see.


The blogger Proud Geek did a well-illustrated, detailed instructional series on captioning your videos:

Multimedia Player Options

Both Microsoft and Real Networks have developed captioning technologies for use with digital video. These technologies can be used to comply with Section 508, the federal law that requires federal web sites to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Real Networks' video player can display RealText, which can be used for closed captioning. RealText is just one of a handful of data types that can be played using a standard called SMIL. SMIL stands for Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language. Tools are already available for developing SMIL multimedia files that include RealText. The Real Networks web site also offers a RealText Authoring Guide for developers. More information on SMIL accessibility features and examples are available from the World Wide Web consortium (w3.org), a body that develops standards for the web.

Microsoft has the Windows Media Player and has developed a special accessibility format called SAMI, Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange (an accessibility technical article in the MSDN library). SAMI is a file format for captioning and audio description. Microsoft explains how to add the captions, and offers code examples and downloadable demonstration files.

How do you view the captions on the Windows Media Player and the Real Player? In Windows Media Player, "captions" can be checked under the View option of the menu bar. It is a little more complicated in the Real player. In the Real Player, a caption display option is available under Preferences...Content..Accessibility.

Apple's QuickTime has long supported closed captioning. QuickTime began supporting closed captioning with version 7.1.6.

In addition, there is a comprehensive captioning tool available, the free MagPIE. MagPIE allows authors to add captions to all three of the main multimedia formats: QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and SMIL (Real player) files.

When the FCC released its captioning requirements for television in August 1997, it did not mandate captioning on the web. But it did leave the door open to revisiting the issue. Internet video is discussed in part IX, "other issues of the FCC captioning regulations."

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