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YouTube Closed Captioning for Accessibility: Why and How

Jan 15, 2019

Amazingly, online videos are still growing and aren’t going away anytime soon. According to Statista, the number of digital video viewers in the United States is currently at around 228 million, with projections at 236 million by 2020. This includes platforms like Netflix and YouTube — the latter of which receives over 72 hours of uploaded video a minute.

With more and more digital video content available, video accessibility is also becoming more of a priority. People want to ensure everyone, regardless of ability or background, can understand their videos. But why is this important? And how can you ensure people watching your video can fully process the content? 

YouTube addresses these questions head on with closed captioning. Closed captioning, the visual display of the audio component of video programming, allows people to read spoken dialogue, as well as non-speech information, like music or sound effects. “Closed” means the captions only appear when activated by the viewer.

Why closed captioning on YouTube?

  1. It accommodates people with disabilities. Forty-eight million Americans report having some degree of hearing loss. Without closed captioning, many of those people would not be able to fully understand or appreciate your video. This means that closed captions can notably increase your audience, expanding your video’s reach and impact.
  2. You’ll reach a wider audience. Closed captions aren’t just for people with hearing disabilities. If English isn’t someone’s first language, for example, seeing written text with the spoken language can be very helpful to understand it. Or, if viewers are in a setting where sound isn’t allowed, closed captions let them still view the video. This boosts audience usage and encourages viewers to continue engaging with the platform.
  3. Following accessibility standards. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are the most prominent accessibility standards, helping websites and businesses stay accessible and in compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating that any audio content, including videos, movies and podcasts, must contain captions.
  4. Huge SEO benefits. Videos with captions and transcripts get found more easily and tend to have increased engagement. After all, what good is your video if nobody finds it?

How do I use YouTube’s closed captions?

Captioning your YouTube videos yourself is usually a cost-effective way to reach your viewers. Here’s how:

There are two main options: automatically generating them or generating them manually. If you chose to manually generate your captions, there are a few ways you can approach it. Check out our step-by-step for each option below.

Use YouTube automatic captions

YouTube can use speech recognition technology to automatically create captions for your videos. Here's how to enable them:

  1. Go to your Video Manager by selecting your account.
  2. Then go to creator studio, to video manager, and to videos.
  3. Select the drop-down menu next to the “Edit” button for the video you want to add captions to.
  4. Select “Subtitles/CC.”
  5. Select the “Add New Subtitles or CC” button.

You’ll now be taken to the caption editor. While YouTube often does a great job, it can’t accurately identify everything — so be sure to review and edit as needed. Once your captions are ready, select “Publish.”

A note for future use: you can also download your captions file. This can be useful for creating closed captions on other platforms, like Facebook. To do so, select “Actions” in the YouTube caption editor and select “Download.”

Manually generate your captions

Upload an .srt file

If you’ve got a captions file (.srt file) already created, you can easily upload this to your video by following the steps below:

  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio beta.
  2. Select“Videos” under the Channel menu.
  3. Select the thumbnail title of a video.
  4. Select the Advanced tab.
  5. Select “Upload Subtitles/CC.”
  6. Choose between With timing or Without timing and select “Continue.”
  7. Choose a file to upload.
  8. Select “Save.”

Upload a transcript

If you have written text for your video, but no timings, this is probably your best option. Follow the five steps above for automatic captions, then:

  1. Underneath the video, click “Transcribe and Auto-sync.”
  2. Type all of the spoken audio and other relevant audio in the text field. (Be sure to incorporate sound cues to identify background sounds.)
  3. Select “Set Timings” to sync your transcript with the video.

Create your own transcript

This is especially helpful if the audio quality is poor. You can also expediate this process with free transcription software, like F4, Express Scribe, or Transcriber. Then follow the steps above for uploading a transcript.

Need further guidance or have questions?

YouTube’s online instructions are detailed and specific to the option you’ve chosen for captioning. You can peruse their articles for additional help.

If you’ve got questions about digital accessibility and how to incorporate captioning into your videos, contact us at the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. Email us at or get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan.

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