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Designing for Accessibility

Tips, tricks for Universal Design, Design for All

Audio files always need transcripts or text equivalents.

Video files always need transcripts and/or captions of dialog.

Hearing impairment icon.


Assume the viewer cannot hear

Subtitles icon.


Assume the viewer cannot understand the language

Visual impairment icon.

Audio Descriptions

Assume the viewer cannot see


Captions should be:

  • Synchronized - the text content should appear at approximately the same time that audio would be available
  • Equivalent - content provided in captions should be equivalent to that of the spoken word
  • Accessible - caption content should be readily accessible and available to those who need it

NCDAE has more information about Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions

Types of Captions

There are differences in how these text descriptions are delivered:

  • Transcripts provide the the captions in a separate file
  • Open Captions are permanently displayed in the video file (i.e. "burned in")
  • Closed Captions are embedded into the file and can be toggled ON/OFF

For subtitles,

  • Dialog in a foreign language is usually burned in (open captions)
  • Dialog in the same language is usually closed captioned

How to Create Captions

Creating Captions

These tools are mainly for video captions, but can be used for audio files as well:

  • Temi - Web-based automatic captioning. $0.25/minute
  • Amara - Web-based do-it-yourself captioning. Free; can upgrade to paid plans for automatic captions
  • Subtitle Edit - Stand-alone software for captioning. Free
  • CADET - Stand-alone software for captioning and audio description. Free

There are many, many, many captioning services available. (Contact me if you have one you really like.)

Some of these sites will output the text as transcriptions.

Automatic and Live Transcriptions

Always review and edit the automatic transcriptions when you post multimedia content.

Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo,, and many others offer live transcription for web-based presentations and meetings. Most of the time, the transcriptions are done by AI. They work well when the audio is clear, the voice "free" of accent, and the subject matter is widely known.

If you have garbled audio, nuanced dialog in different languages and accents, or cover specialized subjects (such as art and design), the AI-ouput can be les than helpful.

For live events, CART are real-time captions created by a stenotype-trained professional. In some ways, this is similar to a sign language interpreter, but the person is interpreting audio into text.

Audio Description

Audio Description (AD) is way to describe visual content to a visually-impaired audience.

In web videos, they are often embedded as separate audio tracks that can be toggled ON/OFF.

The Audio Description Project from the American Council of the Blind compiles lists of museums, performing arts venues, DVDs, TV channels, streaming services, and more that provide audio description.

Although AD is not necessarily required by law, please use it in your professional practice. Learn more with the Describing Visual Resources Toolkit

The Importance of Audio Description

Daredevil (2015)

Daredevil is a television show about a blind lawyer who uses enhanced senses to navigate the world. Yet Netflix did not anticpiate that any of its viewers would be visually impaired.

  • Season 1 was released without an Audio Description track
  • So, blind fans were not able to enjoy a television series about a blind hero
  • Many people complained - including the lead actress, whose boyfriend was visually impaired
  • There was even a petition
  • Netflix quickly added AD

Find out more about the fight for audio description for Daredevil.

Black Panther (2018)

Thomas Reid describes what happens when audio description is done badly in this podcast episode (text and audio). The AD track for Black Panther:

  • failed to capture the nuances of the Wakandan set and costume design
  • describer's voice did not match the tone of the film

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