How Do "Burned In" Captions Affect Accessibility?

December 7, 2021

Closed captions are essential for multimedia accessibility. There’s a strong business case for including captions for all of your video content: According to one poll from Verizon Media, 80% of American consumers are more likely to watch an entire video when captions are available. Captions give your users more ways to access your content, and when combined with video transcripts, they’re an excellent resource for building your brand.

The best way to add captions to your videos is to use caption files in widely used formats like SubRip (SRT). However, some media players don’t support closed captions. When this is the case, content creators sometimes use open captions (also known as “burned-in" captions). Burned-in captions are rendered during the production process — the onscreen text is a permanent part of the video.

Wherever possible, you should use closed caption files and avoid pre-rendered captions. Below, we’ll explain how open captions cause accessibility issues and provide a few tips for making your videos more accessible.

Burned-in captions can create barriers for some users

Closed captions are helpful because they provide users with a robust text alternative to audio content. Unfortunately, open captions don’t provide the same utility — most assistive tools can’t automatically interpret text on images. 

When your videos use burned-in captions, some people won’t be able to access them. For example, many people with vision disabilities use screen readers, which convert onscreen text to audio output. If the text is part of an image, screen readers can’t find anything to read.  

Other potential accessibility issues:

  • Pre-rendered captions can’t be easily translated to other languages. 
  • Users may want to change caption size to make text more legible. Burned-in captions cannot be changed. 
  • Some users may find captions distracting or confusing. These users might want to turn off captions, and burned-in captions don’t provide that option.

Burned-in captions can be helpful for some people with hearing disabilities and people who prefer browsing without sound. However, when creating videos, you need to consider your entire audience — not just people with a specific type of disability.

When using burned-in captions, make sure to follow the best practices

If you’re posting content on your own website, find a media player with strong accessibility features. Make sure that the player supports closed captions, and provide your users with as many caption options as possible to accommodate their preferences.

However, if you’re posting multimedia on social media platforms, you might not have the option to submit a caption file. When that’s the case, burned-in captions are generally preferable to having no captions at all. 

Tips to keep in mind when using open captions: 

  • Choose an easy-to-read font. We recommend simple, unadorned fonts that are widely available such as Arial, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, Verdana, and Helvetica.
  • Make sure your captions don’t obscure important visual information.
  • Include descriptions of important sound effects and musical cues. 
  • In addition to captions, provide a transcript in your video’s description. You can also post your transcript as a comment or provide a clearly labeled link.
  • Make sure that your captions have a high color contrast ratio relative to the video’s background. This helps to accommodate users with low vision and ensures that your text is readable.

Remember to plan for accessibility when creating multimedia content. By creating captions and transcripts while drafting your video scripts, you can cut down on the time you spend preparing your videos for publication. For more guidance, read our checklist for creating accessible videos.

Finally, make sure your entire website is accessible — not just your multimedia content. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a Compliance Roadmap with free resources to help content creators understand the basics of web accessibility and provide a better experience for all visitors.

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