Becoming More Accessible on YouTube: Adding Closed Captions and Other Tips

October 27, 2021

Google’s YouTube is easily the world’s most popular video platform. With 1.86 billion users worldwide, the service hosts an incredible amount of content. Thanks to Google’s focus on digital accessibility, much of that content is fairly useful for people with disabilities.

However, videos with inaccurate closed captions or misleading titles can create accessibility barriers. In this blog, we’ll address a few simple ways to ensure your YouTube channel provides a better experience for all of your followers — regardless of their abilities.

For more tips, check out our article Social Media Accessibility: Quick Tips for Improving Your Reach.

Understand YouTube’s closed captions and automatic transcription features

About 48 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, and closed captions can help these users enjoy your content on YouTube. Closed captions can also be useful for people who don’t have hearing loss — if someone wants to view your video in a public space or they’d simply prefer to keep their sound turned off, your closed captions ensure that they don’t miss your message. Captions can also help screen readers interpret videos accurately.

YouTube has one of the most powerful automatic transcription services available anywhere, and all users have access to this feature. However, automatic transcripts can’t always provide appropriate context, and mistakes can still occur. You’ll want to review your automatic transcriptions thoroughly before promoting your video. 

  • Select the “Edit Video" button below your video. The button’s on the bottom-right side of the video in desktop view. 
  • You can also enter YouTube’s Edit view by clicking “Manage Videos" from your home view.
  • Select the “Subtitles" tab on the left side of the screen.
  • Declare the video’s language. YouTube will generate automatic subtitles. This process usually takes about 10 minutes, but can vary depending on the length of the video.
  • Select “Edit.” On this screen, you’ll see the automatic transcript. You can make changes and adjust the timing to ensure that the captions are synced to your video.
  • Save your changes and publish the transcription.

YouTube’s automatic transcription is excellent at generating subtitles — a text reproduction of dialogue — but it might miss important sounds that provide context. For instance, if your video features an audience clapping or laughing, you’ll want to include these sounds in your subtitles. 

Like most other major social media platforms, YouTube also supports user-created caption files that utilize the SubRip (SRT) format and other common formats. To upload your own captions, follow the process outlined above, but click the “Upload file" option from the Subtitles page.

Read: YouTube Closed Captioning for Accessibility: Why and How

Give your videos clear titles that explain their purpose

Creating accurate titles improves accessibility, and it’s just good branding — if your videos have generic titles like “Our Approach" or “Company Values,” your audience will be limited. Write titles that tell the visitor what to expect. 

Likewise, pay attention to the best practices of content accessibility when writing video descriptions:

  • Avoid using jargon (industry-specific terminology). 
  • If you use acronyms, define them clearly unless they’re extremely well known.
  • Avoid using too many hashtags. When using hashtags, capitalize the first letter of each new word (for instance, #ThisIsAHashtag).
  • Avoid using too many emojis. Be aware of how your emojis' alternative text (image descriptions) could affect your message. 
  • Write short, descriptive sentences. 
  • If your description includes links, make sure those links point to accessible websites. Tell your audience what they can expect to find when visiting the link.

When publishing on YouTube, prioritize accessibility

Overall, YouTube has an excellent set of accessibility features. Users can navigate videos with keyboard shortcuts, view transcripts, and get accessibility help through Google’s accessibility support team. However, content creators still have a responsibility to think about accessibility before publishing. 

The simplest way to improve your accessibility on YouTube is to prioritize people with disabilities when creating your content. Try to write video scripts that will be easy to transcribe. Consider creating subtitle files as part of your video production process, and review every video carefully before publishing. 

Remember, creating accessible content doesn’t always require a huge time investment — if you think about users with disabilities while publishing, the best practices of digital accessibility will become second nature.

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