YouTube Accessibility: How to Make Accessible Videos with Closed Captions

Flyer style cover for article: Kris’s Guide to Video Accessibility with YouTube player icon with controls, by Kris Rivenburgh
Flyer style cover for article: Kris’s Guide to Video Accessibility with YouTube player icon with controls, by Kris Rivenburgh

You want to know how to make videos on your website accessible and accessible videos you shall have. Let’s begin.

First, for the love of Apple Jacks, host your videos on YouTube.

YouTube (a Google company) has built-in (free) subtitles that provide a really good foundation for you to make edits from.

So good that 85% of your transcription work is already done for you.

Right away, this saves you time and dollar bills so take advantage of some of the best automatic transcription software around (among completely free options).

Second, after you’ve uploaded your video to YouTube, go to its public page (the one where everyone can see the video) while logged into your company account. Click “Edit Video”.

Screenshot of YouTube option bar with likes and dislikes, share link, and analytics and edit video blue buttons below.
Screenshot of YouTube option bar with likes and dislikes, share link, and analytics and edit video blue buttons below.
Click “Edit Video” on the public video page while logged in.

Next, click “Other features” link inside the freshly opened edit dashboard.

Screenshot of left navigation menu inside edit video dashboard. Other features is the last option on the list.
Screenshot of left navigation menu inside edit video dashboard. Other features is the last option on the list.
Select “Other features” after you click edit.

A new subtab will open up and you’ll to select “Translation & transcription”.

Screenshot shows submenu that opens up after you click “Other features”. Translation and transcription is the top link.
Screenshot shows submenu that opens up after you click “Other features”. Translation and transcription is the top link.
Once the subtab opens up, select “Translation and transcription”.

Now you’ll want to click the “English (Automatic)” link. Don’t click the “Add new subtitles or CC” button unless you really don’t want to take advantage of YouTube’s automatic transcription.

Screenshot of options YouTube gives to add new subtitles or CC or to edit the existing automatic subtitles.
Screenshot of options YouTube gives to add new subtitles or CC or to edit the existing automatic subtitles.
You’ll click on the “English (Automatic) button.

Next, click the “edit” button.

Screenshot of YouTube options to click edit or unpublish.
Screenshot of YouTube options to click edit or unpublish.

And now we’re going to edit the existing subtitles so that they:

  • are accurate
  • in sync with the video
  • include closed captioning.

Closed captioning is essentially subtitles (dialogue) combined with all other meaningful sounds in the video (e.g. laughter, door slamming).

Screenshot showing existing YouTube subtitles within time frames.
Screenshot showing existing YouTube subtitles within time frames.
To edit existing subtitles, just click inside the text boxes.

Once you’ve made all of your edits, click the publish edits button.

Screenshot of Delete draft and Publish edits options inside YouTube editor.
Screenshot of Delete draft and Publish edits options inside YouTube editor.
Delete draft would be the WRONG button.

After you click publish, go to the newly published public YouTube video page, click “share”.

Screenshot of YouTube options bar with likes, dislikes and share link.
Screenshot of YouTube options bar with likes, dislikes and share link.
Click share.

Then select the “Embed” button.

Screenshot of share options for YouTube video including embed, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Screenshot of share options for YouTube video including embed, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Select the “Embed” option after you click share.

And now grab updated embed code and copy and paste it into notepad (or directly into your website so that the newly updated video can be embedded into your website.

Screenshot of code you can embed in a website to show a YouTube video with embed options underneath the code.
Screenshot of code you can embed in a website to show a YouTube video with embed options underneath the code.
Grab all of the new code and paste it either directly into your website or in Notepad for later.

Finally, although not technically required by a strict reading of WCAG, you’ll want to create a text transcript of the video and include this transcript directly the video on your website.

And great news — You can actually generate an automatic, 60–80% completed (depending on how much additional information is needed) text transcript using your closed captioning edits.

A transcript contains video dialogue along with any other pertinent information of what is happening in the video. Important information may include:

  • Name and title of person
  • Name of things (buildings, products, etc.)
  • What is happening in the video
  • The settings of the video

Every last detail of the video is not necessary but with a transcript you do want to make sure to describe the meaning and essence of the content in the video.

Also, transcript information should be in the same basic chronological order as the video (e.g. you don’t describe the ending of the video to begin the transcript).

ADA Compliance & Accessibility Notes

Beyond closed captioning and a transcript, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.0 AA ask website owners to include an alternate version of the video with audio description.

An audio description version contains the video with narration of non-audible things that are going on inside the video.

Visit the WCAG success criterion 1.2.3 page for more information on audio descriptions.

Video Transcripts vs. Web Design

When adding transcripts beneath your videos, the length of the transcript will push the rest of your content/layout down.

The best option is to include a descriptive text link for the transcript directly beneath the video. This text link should have an anchor text such as:

Transcript of XYZ video

Once the link is clicked, the full transcript will show in a collapsible box.

Accessibility on YouTube

Within the YouTube platform, I recommend adding a link to where your full text transcript can be found (YouTube descriptions are limited in length).

Subtitles vs. Closed Captions

Subtitles merely convey the dialogue inside a video and are not enough, alone, to make a video accessible. Closed captions convey the dialogue and all important sounds such as laughter and doors slamming.

Accurate closed captions and a full, descriptive text transcript are key to making your video accessible and what would very likely be considered ADA compliant.

Written by

Chief Accessibility & Legal Officer at https://essentialaccessibility.com. Author of The ADA Book. ADA & AODA Website Compliance & web accessibility consultant.

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