Why You Should Caption Your Videos (and How to Get Started)

by Brent Greyson, MEd, MLIS – Instructional Design and Accessibility Specialist at Oklahoma ABLE Tech

As with many aspects of digital accessibility (a11y), when it comes to how you should caption your video content, it depends!

What are captions?

In short, captions are words!

Captions generally appear at the bottom of your video content, and there are different types of captions that a content creator can use. The types of captions are defined by how they are accessed, how they appear, and the kind of information they provide.

While we will focus on closed captioning (CC) today, this article from the Described and Captioned Media Program explains more about the different types, methods, and styles of captions. Closed captions are words that are added to a video so people know what’s being said when using audio isn’t the best option for them.

Adding captions to your video content is an example of inclusive design. Inclusive design is a fancy way of saying, “making your content usable by as many people, in as many situations, as possible.”

Benefits of captions

In general, adding captions to your videos can help:

If you are interested in diving deeper into the ways that closed captioning can boost engagement, this Teaching Brief from The Journal of Public Relations Education (PDF) goes into much more detail about the “why” behind using CC (and teaching it to others!).

Getting started with Closed Captioning

Different media platforms will have various levels of access and control for you to add captioning. In this post, we will focus on video content hosted on YouTube.

The basic process for adding Closed Captions to your YouTube video content is the following:

  1. Upload your content to your YouTube channel.
  2. Ensure the settings create automatic closed captioning.
  3. Wait for YouTube to process your video and the automatic closed captioning.
  4. Edit the automated closed captioning.
    1. Automatic closed captioning is not very good at accuracy or timing – if you can, you should always edit the closed captions manually.
    2. Be sure to add the names of speakers, especially if they are speaking off-camera. Something like, “[Brent] Oh, look at these great captions.” would be perfect!

This tutorial from YouTube Creators will walk you through several ways to add custom closed captioning to your YouTube video.

And that's it!

Getting started with adding closed captions to your video content is a big step in the right direction for making your content more accessible. Because different media hosting platforms (Vimeo, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, etc.) have different levels of control and access to captioning tools, you may need to approach each platform differently.

Remember, it depends!

Check out our resources on Audio and Video Accessibility to guide you with captions and many other related topics. Be sure to come back to our blog for future posts covering other a11y topics related to media content and social media!

Oklahoma ABLE Tech is Oklahoma’s Assistive Technology (AT) Act program. As part of the organization’s mission, the digital accessibility team offers training and technical assistance on topics related to digital accessibility, as well as accessibility evaluations of websites, web applications, and other types of digital content. To learn more about digital accessibility, you can visit the Digital Accessibility Program webpage or send an email to abt.a11y@okstate.edu.