Video Accessibility Guidelines


The accessibility purpose of captions and transcripts is to provide an equally effective experience and timely access to the same information that people without disabilities receive when they watch and listen to a live or recorded video.

When video content is broadly used by students, employees, or the public to carry out or participate in the core educational and administrative activities of the University, captions should be included.

These guidelines are intended primarily to help University staff, faculty, and students ensure video content is accessible to people with auditory disabilities, as well as to those with other disabilities that require captioning as an accommodation.

The guidelines are also intended for members of the University community who wish to follow universal design and extend the benefits of accessible video content to anyone in their intended audience. Empirical studies indicate that video captioning improves attention to and comprehension of video content for all people, not only those with disabilities. Captioning is especially helpful to learners and non-native speakers.

Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions

The audio portion of videos can be transcribed and made available in three ways:

  • Captions provide a synchronized text description of the audio. They appear within the video player window and cannot be referenced outside of it. Captions can be generated live, either by artificial intelligence or by a professional captioner. They can also be generated or edited after the creation of the video, depending on the platform or service used. Captions are most helpful to people with auditory disabilities, non-native speakers of the language used, as an aid to understanding, in noisy environments, and when there is a need to turn off or keep the volume low.
    • Closed captions exist as a separate track and can be turned on and off.
    • Open captions are burned into the video itself and cannot be removed or turned off.
    • Live captions are recently available in key technologies used at Princeton, including Zoom, PowerPoint, and Google Slides. They do not include description of audio beyond what is spoken, and they may or may not identify the speaker.
  • Transcripts provide a text description of the audio, but unlike captions, they do not provide descriptions of other relevant sounds. They can be time-indexed but are not synchronized with the video, and exist in a separate text file outside the video player. Transcripts are more suitable for recordings of spoken audio only, with no other sounds or video described. They are especially helpful to people with auditory disabilities and those who wish to read a transcript.
  • Audio descriptions narrate a video's visual elements, such as characters, costumes, actions, body language, setting, scene changes, and on-screen text. They supplement the regular audio track and are inserted into pauses in dialogue. Audio descriptions are especially helpful to people with visual disabilities. Because creating audio descriptions requires special training to write and synchronize with the video, you should work with a captioning service as described below.

Because the goal of captions is to provide an experience equal to listening to the audio, in addition to capturing the words being spoken, captions should include:

  • who is speaking
  • information to set the scene or to provide details about how someone is speaking
  • wordless vocalizations, such as laughter, coughs and sighs
  • important sound effects or environmental sounds
  • all the discernable words, including offensive ones

Since March, 2020, all videos added to Media Central are automatically machine captioned. Because captioning is automatic, you should not caption your videos beforehand. Once you upload them to Media Central, any existing captions will be overwritten. See below for instructions on editing captions to improve their accuracy.

Beginning with the Spring 2021 semester, course-related videos may also be posted to Panopto, where they are also automatically machine captioned. For support, contact the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.

    Closed vs Open Captions

    Closed captions are captions that can be turned on or off by the user. If a user turns them on, by pressing the CC button, the video player overlays and synchronizes the captions. Closed captions are preferred for accessibility since users can customize the size, placement, font and color of the text, or divert the captions to a braille display.

    Not all video streaming tools and platforms accept closed captions. In such cases you should use open captions or link to a captioned copy of the video.

    Open captions are captions that are integrated into the video itself. They cannot be removed or turned off. Open captions are most useful when the video will be used on a platform that cannot accept closed captions.

    Refer to the Social Media Accessibility Guidelines for more information about open and closed captions for social media platforms.

    Quality Assurance in Captioning

    To ensure captions and transcripts are high quality and accurate, either edit captions that have been automatically generated, or procure professional captioning services. When requesting video production from the University’s Video Production Support team, you should indicate, or inquire, whether the video needs to be delivered with professional captions.

    Automated captioning is improving but accuracy rates vary. Automated captioning alone is not sufficient to support formal accommodations for people with disabilities. In such cases, when automated captioning is used it should only be considered as a first step until the captions are corrected, either in-house or by a professional captioner.

      Professional Captioning Services

      When working with a captioner, provide materials in advance, such as the names of the presenters and those referenced, technical terms, specialized language, references (such as to papers or student presentations), and copies of speeches.


      Editing Captions in Media Central to Improve Accuracy

      Once you upload a video, the captioning process will begin and generally takes a few hours. Once the process is complete:

      1. Go to Media Central
      2. Log in.
      3. Pull down the menu under your profile name, and select My Media.
      4. In the list of videos that appears, click on the title of the video you want to edit.
      5. When the video detail page opens, pull down the ACTIONS menu and select Captions & Enrich.
      6. Select the pencil (edit) icon.
      7. When the Closed Captions Editor page opens, click on the first caption entry, which will take you to the start of the spoken audio in the video. The select the video play button to follow along.
      8. Check back and forth as you listen to the video and read the caption entries. Start and stop the video as needed, so thta you can correct the captions to match the spoken audio.
      9. Save your work every few minutes.

      Live Captioning for Videoconferencing

      Professional Live Captioning (CART)

      Also known by the technical term "Communication Access Real-time Translation" (CART), live captions are provided by a professional captioner as an event takes place. The captioner is either in attendance or participating remotely via web conference. Online, the captions are shown over the bottom portion of the video window. In an in-person event, the captions are shown on a separate screen in the room. 

      For Major Events

      1. When you submit a request for Media Event/Production Support, indicate on the form the need for live captioning.
      2. You must then also separately schedule live captioning. We recommend CaptionFirst.
      3. CaptionFirst will then contact Video Production Support to coordinate captioning.

      For Zoom Webinars

      1. To enable professional live captioning, you must first submit a request for a Video / Web Conferencing Account.
      2. Once your account has been established, schedule live captioning. We recommend ACS Captions or CaptionFirst.
      3. Contact Video Production Support with any questions or concerns.

      For Zoom Meetings

      1. All staff Zoom accounts are Meeting accounts, so no account request is required.
      2. Schedule professional live captioning with either ACS Captions or CaptionFirst.

      Automated Live Captions

      Machine-generated live captions are a helpful feature for many people. Automated live captions are not necessarily sufficient for those who require captions as an accommodation. In such instances, meeting organizers and presenters should follow an attendee's accommodation need: in the case of a member of the University community, as documented by the Office of Disabilities, Human Resources, or the Office of the Dean of the Faculty; or in the case of a member of the public, as requested.

      Zoom Automated Live Captions

      For attendees to view live captions, the host must first enable the feature in their Zoom settings. Attendees then have the option to turn captions on for themselves. Note that captions are not saved.

      Meeting host

      To enable automated live captions:

      1. Ensure the Closed Captioning function in your Zoom settings is on, and the Enable live transcription service option underneath is checked.
      2. In the meeting, the Zoom toolbar, select Live Transcript.
      3. When the Live Transcript menu opens, select Enable Auto-Transcription.

      To disable live automated live captions:

      1. In the Zoom toolbar, select Live Transcript.
      2. When the Live Transcript menu opens, select Disable Auto-Transcription.
      Meeting attendee

      To view automated live captions:

      1. In the Zoom toolbar, select Live Transcript.
      2. When the Live Transcript menu opens, select an option:
        • Show Subtitle displays captions on the screen
        • View Full Transcript displays captions with the speaker's name and a time stamp within the transcript window
        • Subtitle Settings… opens the Accessibility Settings window, where you can adjust the font size for both the captions and the Chat window

      To turn off automated live captions:

      1. In the Zoom toolbar, select Live Transcript.
      2. When the Live Transcription menu opens, select Hide Subtitle.

      For Individual Accommodations

      1. Email the Office of Disability Services for students, consult the HR accommodations policy for employees or contact the Office of the Dean of the Faculty for faculty.
      2. ODS coordinates with vendors, typically ACS Captions or White Coat Captioning.
      3. ODS also coordinates with internal offices as needed.