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What Makes for High Quality Accessible Videos?


Not All Captions Are The Same

One common myth about captioning is that the automatic captions now provided on sites such as YouTube are sufficient to meet accessibility requirements. While the technology behind  automatic captioning continues to improve, it is not yet accurate enough to stand on its own without some editing to ensure its accuracy and timing. A simple online search will reveal a number of videos illustrating what are known as “captioning fails.” Rhett and Link are two YouTube personalities who have created a following from their videos that compare an original script to the automatically generated captions.

Properly captioning or describing media is as much an art as it is a science. As with other aspects of language, there is nuance and context to consider. However, over time some best practices have been identified to ensure quality captions and descriptions are available that enhance understanding of content rather than distract from it. On this page, you will learn about the guidelines for quality captioned and described content. You will also learn about some sources of quality captioned and described content you can start using right away to support students’ learning.

What Constitutes Quality Captions

Working closely with industry groups and the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), in 2014 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued best practices for captioners, captioning vendors, and content creators to follow. Thebest practices build around four questions:

  • Accuracy: do the captions “accurately reflect what is in the program’s audio track by matching the dialogue, music, and sounds, and do they identify the speakers?”
  • Synchronicity: are the captions “delivered synchronously with the corresponding dialogue and other sounds at a speed that can be read by viewers?”
  • Completeness: are the captions “ complete for the entire program?”
  • Placement of the captions: do the captions “not obscure important on-screen information and are they not obscured by other information on the screen?”

The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) has developed the Elements of Quality Captioning, which are consistent with FCC guidance. Beyond best practices, specific techniques result in clear and easy-to-read captions. DCMP has two resources for learning these techniques:

Captioning expert Gary Robson explains the importance of following best practices in his TEDx Talk: Does closed captioning still serve deaf people? 

What Constitutes Quality Descriptions

DCMP’s definition of quality description includes the following five components which have some overlap with those for captioning:

  • Accurate: There must be no errors in word selection, pronunciation, diction, or enunciation.
  • Prioritized: Content essential to the intended learning and enjoyment outcomes is of primary importance.
  • Consistent: Both the description content and the voicing should match the style, tone, and pace of the program.
  • Appropriate: Consider the intended audience, be objective, and seek simplicity and succinctness.
  • Equal: Equal access requires that the meaning and intention of the program be conveyed.

Specific techniques for implementing these guidelines are included in the DCMP’s Description Key.      

Example of High Quality Captions

Example of High Quality Described Video

Sources of Quality Captioned and Described Content

The DCMP is one of the best sources for quality described and captioned content. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Association of the Deaf, it provides access to an extensive library of free-loan described and captioned educational media for qualifying members. Lesson guides are also provided.

Other sources of captioned content you may want to consider include:

  • PBS Learning Media: Conduct asearch to find titles that are described or captioned. From the search options, select Accessibility Features, then Adaptation Types. The options include Audio Description, Caption and Transcript.
  • The videos in this collection include subtitles, which serve as captions when a viewer’s native language is selected.  Accessibility features include adjusting playback speed and using an interactive transcript to jump to specific points in the video. The provided video player also has good keyboard accessibility.
  • Khan Academy: What started as a collection of basic math videos is now a repository of media for a variety of subjects, including science and engineering, history, economics and even test prep courses and other career-related topics. Videos can be accessed on the web or through dedicated iOS and Android apps.

A number of video hosting services allow you to find closed-captioned and described videos by adding a filter to your search:

Captioned videos will have "CC" appear near the title in the search results. Similarly, described videos will feature an "AD" icon. The steps for turning on the captions and customizing their appearance will depend on the device where you view the video:


Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Video Description

Inclusion of verbal or auditory descriptions of on-screen visuals intended to describe important details not contained from main audio output.

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