A television set with a closed captioning box at the bottom

Creating Captions for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Viewers: A Guide

As media continues to advance, it’s important to remember that not all viewers have the same abilities to consume it. For the approximately 37.5 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, creating accessibility in the form of captions is crucial. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of captions and best practices for creating effective captions that improve accessibility and inclusivity.

Understanding the Importance of Captions for Accessibility

Captions are a visual representation of the audio content in media, such as television shows, movies, and online videos. They are essential for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, as well as for others who may benefit from them, such as those learning a new language or watching content in a noisy environment. Captions ensure access to vital information and dialogue, which would otherwise be completely missed.

The Role of Captions in Inclusive Media

More than just a tool for accessibility, captions play an integral role in creating inclusive media. Captions improve the viewing experience for all viewers, regardless of hearing ability. They allow viewers to fully understand and appreciate the content being presented, creating a sense of community and shared experience.

For example, imagine watching a foreign film without captions. Even if you understand the language being spoken, you may miss important nuances in the dialogue. Captions provide a way to fully engage with the content, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

In addition, captions can be useful for individuals who are not deaf or hard-of-hearing, but may have difficulty understanding certain accents or dialects. Captions provide a way to clarify any misunderstandings and ensure that everyone can fully enjoy the content.

Legal Requirements for Captioning

It’s important to note that in the United States, television shows and movies shown on television or in theaters are legally required to include captions. Online videos must also include captions in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legal requirement ensures that individuals with disabilities have equal access to information. In addition to legal compliance, captioning is also simply the right thing to do.

Not only does captioning ensure equal access to information, it also demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and diversity. By providing captions, content creators show that they value and respect all members of their audience, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds.

Furthermore, captioning can also have a positive impact on search engine optimization (SEO). Captions provide additional text that can be indexed by search engines, making it easier for people to find and discover your content.

Types of Captions and Their Uses

There are various types of captions, each with its own unique uses and benefits. Captions are a way to make media accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who may not be able to hear the audio due to environmental factors.

Closed Captions vs. Open Captions

Closed captions can be turned on or off, giving the viewer the option to view or not view them. This is useful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who may not want to disturb others with the audio. Closed captions can also be used to provide a transcript of the audio, which can be helpful for people who are learning a new language or have difficulty understanding accents.

Open captions, on the other hand, are integrated into the media and cannot be turned off. Open captions are often used in public spaces, such as airports or museums, where there is no way to provide the viewer with the option to turn captions on or off. They can also be used as a creative choice by filmmakers, adding an artistic element to the media.

Real-time Captions vs. Pre-recorded Captions

Real-time captions are created live as the content is being delivered, which is useful for events such as live broadcasts or conferences. This allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in real-time and follow along with the content. Real-time captions can also be used in classrooms or meetings to provide accessibility for students or employees.

Pre-recorded captions, on the other hand, are created after the media has already been produced. Pre-recorded captions are generally more precise and accurate, as they are created with the ability to edit and refine. This is useful for media that will be distributed widely, as it ensures that the captions are accurate and easy to read.

Subtitles vs. Captions

Subtitles and captions are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two separate things. Subtitles are translated text for foreign language content, while captions include not just dialogue, but also information about sound effects, music, and other audio cues. Captions are more comprehensive than subtitles, providing a more complete viewing experience for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Overall, captions are an important tool for making media accessible to a wider audience. By providing captions, media creators can ensure that everyone can enjoy their content, regardless of their hearing ability or language proficiency.

Best Practices for Creating Effective Captions

Creating effective captions requires careful attention to detail and consideration of the viewer’s needs. Here are some best practices:

Synchronizing Captions with Audio

Timing is critical for captions. They must sync up with the audio, or they’ll be of no use to the viewer. Captions that are off by even a fraction of a second can be difficult to read and understand. As such, it’s important to ensure that captions are accurately timed and synchronized with the audio.

One way to ensure accurate synchronization is to use specialized software that can automatically generate captions based on the audio. These software programs can analyze the audio and create captions that are timed to match the spoken words. However, it’s important to review the captions carefully to ensure that they are accurate and properly synchronized.

Ensuring Readability and Clarity

Readability is key. Captions should be easy to read, with high contrast between the text and background. The font should be clear and legible, and the text should be sized appropriately. It’s also important to make sure captions don’t obscure any important visual elements, such as subtitles or on-screen text.

Another consideration for readability is the use of proper grammar and punctuation. Captions should be written in complete sentences, with proper capitalization and punctuation. This not only makes the captions easier to read, but also helps to convey the intended meaning more clearly.

Properly Formatting Captions

Captions should be properly formatted so that they are easy to read and understand. This means breaking them up into manageable chunks, with proper punctuation and sentence structure. It’s also important to indicate who is speaking and to include any relevant sound effects or music cues.

One way to format captions is to use a two-line format, with the speaker’s name or identifier on the first line and the spoken words on the second line. This helps to make it clear who is speaking and what they are saying.

In addition, captions should be timed to appear on the screen at the appropriate moment. This means that captions should be synchronized with any relevant visual cues, such as changes in camera angles or on-screen text.

By following these best practices, you can create captions that are accurate, readable, and easy to understand. Whether you’re creating captions for a video, a webinar, or a live event, taking the time to create effective captions can make a big difference in the viewer’s experience.

Captioning Tools and Software

There are various tools and software available for captioning content, both professional and DIY options. Captioning is an important aspect of creating accessible content, as it provides an alternative way for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand the audio portion of a video. In addition, captions can also be helpful for individuals who are non-native speakers or in noisy environments.

Professional Captioning Services

For those with the budget, professional captioning services are available. These services provide high-quality captions that are accurately timed and synchronized with the audio, and are formatted to meet accessibility standards. Professional captioners use specialized software to create captions, and often have experience in captioning for specific industries or content types, such as education or broadcast media.

Professional captioning services can be particularly useful for large-scale projects, such as feature-length films or television series, where accuracy and consistency are paramount. However, they can also be expensive, with costs ranging from a few dollars per minute of content to several hundred dollars per hour.

DIY Captioning Software

For those on a budget, there are a variety of DIY captioning software tools available. These tools allow users to create their own captions, from pre-recorded content or in real-time, with the ability to edit and refine as necessary.

Some popular DIY captioning software options include Amara, Kapwing, and Subtitle Workshop. These tools typically offer a range of features, such as automatic captioning, timecode adjustment, and formatting options. However, it’s important to note that creating accurate captions can be time-consuming, and may require some technical expertise.

Integrating Captions with Video Platforms

Many video platforms, such as YouTube or Vimeo, offer built-in captioning tools. It’s important to take advantage of these tools and ensure that captions are properly formatted and synced with the audio. In addition, some platforms, such as Facebook, offer automatic captioning options, which can be a quick and easy way to add captions to your content.

When integrating captions with video platforms, it’s also important to consider the user experience. For example, some platforms allow users to toggle captions on and off, while others may display captions automatically. It’s important to test your captions on different platforms and devices to ensure that they are accessible and easy to use.


Creating captions is an essential part of making media accessible and inclusive for all viewers. By understanding the importance of captions, the different types of captions, and best practices for creating effective captions, we can work towards a more inclusive world where everyone has equal access to information and media.