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Distance Learning | School of Professional Studies | Northwestern University

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How do I make my audio and video accessible?

Any video or audio recordings that are required content for a course must have captions and/or a transcript available. In a sense, captions and transcripts are another form of alternative text for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. Rather than alt text on an image, which is converted into an audio format for blind and low-vision users, captions and transcripts convert a primarily auditory medium into a visual one. This allows deaf and hard-of-hearing users to fully engage with the material, as well as benefiting non-native English speakers, visual learners, and people who aren’t able to listen to the audio for any other reason (such as not disturbing fellow commuters or waking napping kids).

Transcripts for Audio

Audio recordings–such as announcements, podcasts, and interviews–must be accompanied by a text transcript. For internally created audio recordings, faculty can work with the Instructional Technologists to create a transcript. Transcripts are much easier to create with a script, which is why scripting is strongly recommended for all recordings, even short announcements.

For external recordings, the following steps should be taken to assess the audio and acquire a transcript.

  1. Was the audio posted by the copyright holder? If so, a transcript may already exist. If one cannot be easily located, the copyright holder should be contact about providing a transcript.
  2. If the audio was not posted by the copyright holder, you should go through eReserves to obtain a copyright-compliant version of the audio.
  3. If the audio cannot be obtained through eReserves, it may be worth considering the educational value and need of the audio recording. Is there another way of sharing the information with the students? Can an alternate resource be found, or can one be created by the instructor?
  4. If it is determined that no transcript exists and no accessible alternative can be found, the Instructional Technologist team will work with you to have a transcript created by a third party.

Transcripts can be posted as downloadable PDFs or as separate, linked Canvas pages, but they should be placed in the immediate context of the audio and clearly identified for easy access.

Captions for Video

Like audio recordings, all video recordings should have captions on them. In some cases, such as uncaptioned, external videos, descriptive transcripts are an acceptable substitute. Internally created videos, be they lectures recorded in the Abbott Hall Studio or screencasts recorded on a laptop, must be fully captioned. The Instructional Technologists will work with faculty to create captions for their videos. Again, scripting is vitally important for quality captions.

Captions vs Subtitles

Captions are an accessibility tool that many people are familiar with, but it is important to note the difference between captions and subtitles. Subtitles are simply a running transcript of the dialogue that is occurring on-screen. Captions are more encompassing and include a description of any audio that is necessary to understand the information.

For example, imagine that you are discussing time management and distractions in an office environment, and want to show your students a clip of a woman at her desk who is being bombarded by ringing phones, people talking off-screen, computer alert noises, etc. For hearing viewers, the scene is easy to understand. For viewers who are unable to hear the sound effects, however, the woman’s reactions to the noise will make little to no sense; therefore, the sound effects would need to be included in the captions. In contrast, if you are recording a lecture video and a dog barks outside, you don’t need to mention that in the captions—the barking is not part of the lecture and conveys no information.

External Videos

Who is responsible for providing captions on externally created videos, such as movie clips, expert lectures, and so on? Ideally, these external clips would already be captioned, but that isn’t always the case. If you’ve found an externally created video without captions that you would like to use in your course, go through the following steps:

  1. Was the video posted by the copyright holder? If so, the video may already be captioned. If the video isn’t captioned, it may be worth contacting the copyright holder about captioning.
  2. If the video was not posted by the copyright holder, you should go through eReserves to obtain a copy of the video clip.
  3. If the video cannot be obtained through eReserves, it may be worth stepping back and considering the value of the video. What is its purpose in the course? Could the same information be conveyed through another, more accessible video?
  4. Finally, if you have determined that there are no alternatives to the video and no way to obtain a captioned version, the SPS Instructional Technologists can submit the video to a transcription service to produce a transcript, which can be linked on the page with the video.

Please note that YouTube’s auto-generated captions are absolutely not an acceptable form of captioning on a video. While the technology is improving, it is in no way equivalent to human-created captions. Auto-generated captions are typically only 60-70% accurate, and if they are used, they must be manually corrected and reviewed for accuracy.

Ad-Hoc Recordings

Many faculty also create videos throughout the quarter–weekly wrap-ups, announcements, etc. Ideally, these would all be scripted, and those scripts would be the base for the creation of transcripts and/or captions. Short of this ideal, however, faculty should consider the following:

  • Do the videos contain academically important information?
  • If so, is the academically important information available elsewhere (in text format) on the website?

For example, if a video includes information about one of the assigned readings, but that information is also included in the weekly overview, then captions or a transcript for an ad-hoc recording are less important. If the academic information in the video cannot be accessed by students in any other way, however, then a transcript is required. That said, it’s a best practice to provide transcripts or captions on as much course material as possible, academically relevant or not, so that all students are fully included in the complete course experience.

For sync sessions and other live video or audio content, we don’t provide captions unless specifically requested by a student. Live captioning is costly, and simply isn’t in the budget to provide proactively in every course. Similarly, transcripts for recordings of live sync sessions can be expensive as well, and because the sessions are optional, any material discussed in them should be available to students in other (fully accessible) formats. That said, if a student does need captions, direct them to contact AccessibleNU as early as possible.

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