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What Website Developers Need to Know About Closed Captions

Mar 15, 2018

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear “closed captions” is likely the benefits that they have for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Forty-eight million Americans report having some degree of hearing loss, which means that providing closed captions can dramatically expand your audience for video, audio, and multimedia content.

Yet, including closed captions isn’t just advantageous for users with hearing disabilities. In fact, there are many arguments to make the broader business case for closed captions. For one, closed captions make it much easier to welcome users who speak English as a second language and to translate your content into other languages, boosting audience engagement. Closed captions also make it possible for people to interact with the video in any setting, loud or quiet.

In addition, closed captions can help with search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines like Google function by looking for keywords within the text of billions of web pages, and then showing the web pages that are most likely to be useful for a given keyword search.

If you include these closed captions as written transcripts on your website, then search engines will be more likely to include your pages in relevant searches. According to a study by email marketing company Liveclicker, sites that added transcripts to their web pages saw an average revenue increase of 16%.

Closed Captions and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Although most TV broadcast and cable stations in the U.S. are required to provide closed captions for their content, websites face no such legal requirements. However, nearly all web accessibility standards include sections for closed captions, including the popular Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

According to the WCAG 2.0 standards, accessible websites must provide captions “for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.” In addition, WCAG 2.0 Level AA, which is higher than the basic Level A guidelines, requires websites to provide captions for all live audio content as well.

If you want to meet the WCAG standards, any audio content on your website must contain captions, from videos to movies to podcasts. This includes HTML5 videos, videos in multimedia players such as YouTube and Vimeo, and videos in formats such as Flash and Java applets.

The WCAG standards don’t specify whether the captions should be “open” (hard-baked into the multimedia file itself) or “closed” (able to be turned on and off by the user). However, for the sake of viewers’ convenience, most websites provide closed captions for video content.

Note that captions are very similar to, but distinct from, subtitles. Subtitles are traditionally intended for people who may not speak the language of the audio content. This means that they generally don’t include information about other non-verbal audio, such as sounds and music. Captions, on the other hand, are specifically created with users who have hearing disabilities in mind. As a result, they usually include written descriptions of sounds and music, allowing all users to better understand the content.

Final Thoughts

Interested in making your website more accessible by adding captions to your multimedia content? Contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility for a free 30-minute consultation with our internet accessibility experts, who can advise you on the right steps for your organization.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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