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Accessible Audio and Video

One of the biggest benefits of online learning is the opportunity to use a wide array of media. Podcasts, interviews, movie clips, recorded lectures--all of these and so much more can be included in a course site for a richer, more engaging experience. But just as images need a text description, anything conveyed in audio, be it an audio file or the sound on a video, needs a text version as well. Transcripts and captions are the best ways to create accessible media.

Who Needs Accessible Audio and Video?

Captions and transcripts are necessary for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users to engage with audio content. But the benefits of captions and transcripts reach a wide variety of users. People who are non-native English speakers often benefit from being able to read along while listening to someone speak. People with poor internet connections might not be able to stream audio or video, but are able to read a text transcript. And some users simply read faster than they listen, or process information better via text. Providing transcripts and captions helps everyone.

There are also some accessibility benefits to audio and video in general. One of the accessibility lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic was that students with attention disorders (who might otherwise need a peer notetaker) benefit immensely from recorded lectures. By being able to pause, rewind, and replay lectures, students are able to absorb the information at their own pace.

How to Create Transcripts and Captions

Write a Script

The easiest way to get a text version of your audio is to write it yourself! If you are creating a video or audio recording for your course, consider writing a script. It will help keep you focused and make editing a snap--if you fumble over your words, you can simply go back to the beginning of the sentence and start again. And of course, if you have a script, you can use that as your transcript or caption file. Check out our guide on script writing to learn more!

Add and Edit Captions

At Northwestern, videos are most frequently recorded, captioned, and shared through Zoom, Panopto, and YouTube. Each platform includes options for auto-generating captions and editing them for accuracy, and Panopto and YouTube have options for uploading pre-written captions (from a script, for example).

Auto-generated captions or transcripts are best for recordings that can’t be scripted: interviews, live sessions, etc. If you’re using auto-generated captions, it’s important to go back and edit them for accuracy. Most auto-generated captions are only about 70-80% accurate, which means that at best, one in every five words is wrong. And that number only increases if you introduce things like technical jargon or specific names.

We’ve included links to guides on how to make sure your recordings in each of these platforms are properly captioned.


The Northwestern Accessibility site includes this comprehensive guide on Zoom accessibility, including how to run accessible meetings, record videos, and edit captions.


Panopto allows for auto-generating and editing captions from a recording. You can also upload your own caption file.


As with Panopto, YouTube allows you to auto-generate, edit, and/or upload your own captions. One benefit of YouTube is that you don’t have to have a pre-timestamped caption file. You can upload a Word doc and YouTube will match the captions to the recording.

External Recordings

Ensuring that you have captions and/or transcripts for recordings that you create yourself is fairly straightforward. However, there are a wealth of resources created by others on the internet--and unfortunately, they aren’t always accessible. The following list gives you some steps to go through when assessing external recordings that lack captions or transcripts.

  1. Was the recording posted by the copyright holder? Reach out to the copyright holder, if possible, to request a transcript or that captions be added.
  2.  If the recording was not posted by the copyright holder, or the copyright holder does not respond, it may be worth stepping back and considering the value of the recording. What is its purpose in the course? Could the same information be conveyed through another, more accessible option?
  3. If you have determined that there are no alternatives to the chosen recording and no way to obtain an accessible version, reach out to your academic department, AccessibleNU, or (for SPS DL faculty), your Instructional Technologist partner on the development team. They can direct you to resources to create a transcript or caption file for the recording. This often comes with financial costs.