Multimedia, with its dynamic combination of text, photos, animations, audio and video, adds richness to the higher education learning experience. Its energy and interactivity make it popular with many students, who find it to be an engaging supplement to (and in some cases a substitution for) classroom lectures. Yet multimedia can also pose challenges for individuals with hearing or visual impairments.

Videos without Sound

There are many situations in which a user may not be able to listen to the audio portion of a video. Captions provide access to the audio content in these cases.

Captions are beneficial for many people, including:

  • Individuals with hearing impairments
  • Non-native speakers of the language
  • Listeners who have difficulty understanding various accents
  • Viewers without access to audio on their device
  • Viewers in a loud or quiet space
  • Students who benefit from seeing and hearing information simultaneously
  • Visual learners
  • Web developers wanting to improve Search Engine Optimization
  • Students wanting to search a video and go directly to a specific topic

Captioning provides a synchronized text transcript of the audio for any type of multimedia so that the information can be read as well as heard. This alternate method of delivery is vital for including those with hearing impairments, but it is also beneficial for other users, such as those learning the language used in the video.

Captions can be combined into a video transcript. Because the transcript is searchable, users can locate a specific points in the video, and search engines will bring more traffic to your site.

  • A transcript file is separate from the video file. It is uploaded into the player as a caption or subtitle file attached to the video. Having captions “burned in” is more expensive.
  • Include a downloadable file of the transcript alongside the video (accessible Word or PDF).
  • If adding video to a Canvas course, upload it to another streaming service (such as YouTube), and then link to it from your course. You can make videos private so that only those with the link can view them.
  • Consider adding black to the bottom of your video once you’re done editing to allow room for captions to display without covering any of the footage. Captions usually display on the bottom 1/3 of the screen.
Captioning: a Legal Mandate or Prohibition?

Federal laws, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, require that instructional materials be accessible to learners with hearing impairments or other disabilities. But making multimedia accessible—by adding captions or subtitles, or by ensuring that media player software can be controlled from the keyboard—can be a daunting task. For one thing, multimedia exists in a wide variety of formats, each with its own methods for adding accessibility features. Another challenge is copyright law, which, strictly interpreted, prohibits any conversion, copying, editing (including adding captions), or archiving of digital media by anyone other than the copyright owner. Many educators, as they navigate between these opposing sets of laws, feel caught between a rock and a hard place.

Determining Copyright Ownership

Video captioning begins with the determination of copyright ownership. If you are not the copyright owner, you should contact the owner or publisher to request a captioned version of the material. With any luck, you may not have to caption at all! If you are the copyright owner or have permission to reproduce the video, or if your use of the video would be considered “fair use” (see Note below), you will want to either caption the material yourself or hire a company to do the work for you. (The “fair use” exemption of the copyright law allows educators and artists to use portions of copyrighted works in the course of their professional duties.)

Visual Videos

A powerful aspect of videos is their wealth of nonverbal communication. Images can convey much, and minutes can pass without any words being spoken. Unfortunately, this excludes someone with a visual impairment from receiving information that is conveyed only visually.

When creating a video, consider the fact that not everyone may be able to see it, and incorporate as much description in the audio as possible.

  • Have participants narrate or describe visual information during filming. This habit is also helpful for including non-visual students in real-time situations such as lectures.
  • Consider timing. If something important is being conveyed visually, leave enough space for audio description to have time to play.
    • Timed AD transcripts may pause the video while audio description is being spoken if there isn't enough time for the audio.

When a proactive approach is not possible, the solution is audio description (AD). Audio description provides an additional audio track which describes important visual information. Support for audio description is not yet widespread. Below are several options.

Video Player Support

Not all video players have the capability to play an audio description track, and some only work on desktop computers. For those with support, the file can be added in a similar way to a caption file.

  • Players with native support for AD:
Publish a Second Video
  • A common solution to the lack of native support in video players is to publish a second version of the video with an AD track 'burned in'.
  • If you use 3Play Media to create the audio description, you can download an mp4 with the AD and video already combined.
Audio Description Plugin
  • 3Play Media also has a plugin that allows you to add AD to a video player without having to publish a second video. The plugin is compatible with platforms including YouTube, Vimeo, Brightcove, Kaltura, and Wistia.

Audio description is still very expensive and may not be possible for everyone. Another solution is to provide a text transcript of the video that includes both the audio and visual information. This provides the full content of the video for individuals with both hearing and visual impairments.

Start with a transcript based on captions, and then add audio descriptions as necessary. Keep in mind that you only need to describe meaningful visual information.

YouDescribe is a free service that allows anyone to manually record audio descriptions for existing YouTube videos.

  • YouTube does not yet have support for an AD track
  • Videos must be viewed through the YouDescribe website for users to access the descriptions
Preparing to Record
  • The service requires login with a Google ID
  • An external usb microphone is recommended
  • Only describe visual information that is needed for a viewer to understand the video
  • Describe visual content factually and concisely, without interpretation or censorship
  • Do not record over existing audio
Recording AD with YouDescribe
  1. Paste a YouTube url into the search box on YouDescribe. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to see undescribed videos.)
  2. Click on "Describe" on the video thumbnail
  3. Play the video, and pause when you want to insert a description
  4. Click on "Add Inline" to begin recording (Use the extended option sparingly)
  5. When finished with the current segment, click the square icon to stop recording
  6. Resume playing and repeat these steps until finished
  7. Click Save when finished

The current cost to add audio description to videos through 3Play Media is $9 per minute. This is an additional cost beyond any captioning.

Preferred Vendor: 3Play Media

Outsourcing video captioning is in many ways the best choice if your department has the budget for it. A professional company produces high quality captions with excellent accuracy rates. This saves everyone time, and ultimately money, when compared to the cost of paying an inexperienced employee to produce captions of much lesser quality.

CSU has a contract with 3Play Media. Prices include both captions and transcripts, unlike some other vendors who charge separately for each. Both are needed for accessibility.

Caption and Transcription Pricing

  • Extended (10 Days): $1.80/min
  • *Standard (4 Days): $1.95/min  *This is the default rate when uploading files.
  • Expedited (2 Days): $2.45/min
  • Rush (1 Day): $2.95/min
  • Same Day (8 Hours): $4.30/min
  • Same Day (2 Hours): $6.95/min
  • Difficult Audio (In addition to turnaround time): +$1.00/min

Audio Description Pricing

  • Audio Description (In addition to turnaround time): +$9.00/min

Using 3Play Media

Request an Account

Please contact us to get an account setup or to gain access to your department's account.

Set Your Transcription Preferences

Once you have signed into your account, set your transcript settings. This determines which file types links will appear in the list for quick download. These settings apply to all videos within this account.

  • Click on Settings in the top right corner to go to the Favorite Formats preferences.

Settings link in main menu bar

Under Favorite Formats, we recommend:

  • SRT – Caption Formats (uncheck all others)
    • SRT includes time-stamps and is standard for many video players, including YouTube

SRT checked under Favorite Formats

  • Word Doc –Transcript Formats (uncheck all others)
    • The transcript may need to be edited and have headings added for accessibility. You can always convert to PDF later if you prefer to post a PDF alongside your video.

Word Doc checked under Favorite Formats - Transcripts

Select Your Project

If you are managing more than one project for budgeting purposes, click the drop-down arrow in the top left corner to select the correct project.

List of projects in drop-down menu

Upload a File for Transcription

Note: If using a streaming service such as YouTube, upload the video there first and copy the direct link to the video.

  • Click on "Upload Media" in the main navigation menu bar
  • Use the “From Links” tab if streaming
  • Paste the direct link to the video and click "Add"
  • Otherwise choose “From Computer” and browse to the file

Upload media from links

Upload Screen 1: Select Service Type
  • Most commonly, you will keep the default option, English Transcription & Captioning
  • Add audio description if the video has a lot of visuals without spoken explanation (at extra cost). This is for those with visual impairments who may miss important content if only conveyed visually.

Upload screen tab 1, service selection

Upload Screen 2: Price Options
  • The “Additional Cost per Min” listed is relative to the standard price.
  • The Standard price is selected by default. This is not the best rate. Make sure to choose Extended at the bottom to receive the best rate.

Upload screen 2, rate selection. Extended is the cheapest and last option

Upload Screen 3 (Option 1): Create a New Folder (Default)
  • 3Play Media organizes videos by folder, which is helpful especially if you plan to do videos for different websites or courses
  • If you don’t have a folder yet, create one here, giving it a descriptive name in the text box

Upload screen 3, create a new folder (default)

Upload Screen 3 (Option 2): Save to Existing Folder
  • If you already have folders, you can upload directly to the relevant one

Upload screen 3, choose an existing folder

Upload Screen 4: Summary & Confirmation
  • Check the summary to make sure everything is correct.
  • Double-check the turnaround time for the rate you will be charged. The cheapest rate is Extended, not Standard.
  • Check the box to accept the cancellation policy. The time available to cancel a file varies depending on when 3Play staff start working on the file. It may be as short as 2 minutes. Make sure all editing of your video is truly complete before uploading.

Upload screen 4, confirm settings and cancellation policy

Rename the File

After the file submitting the file, change the name to something descriptive on the file summary screen. The automatic name is based on the video url, and as you can see from the screenshot below, it quickly becomes difficult to know which video is which.

List of video files on home screen

Check for Flags

Before you download a transcript, you should check for flags indicating that some of the audio was inaudible. You may be able to correct these since you know your own content.

  • Click on the video name to view the transcript.
  • Click on the flag icon if it has a number by it. This will highlight any text that was marked as inaudible in the transcript. You may need to scroll down to find it.
Click on flag icon to highlight inaudible text
  • Click on the pencil icon to edit the transcript

Edit icon in transcript view

  • The transcript is interactive, so if you click on a word, the video jumps to that point. Listen to the video so you can correct the inaudible text.
  • Click on the word you need to change, and then select "Edit Word." This opens a text box where you can type your corrections.
  • Once done typing, click away from the text box to close it.
Edit Word in transcript editing view
  • Save changes. Note that this does not automatically update the downloadable transcript file. It saves changes as you go so that you don’t lose your work.

Save changes button

  • Finalize file. This commits changes so they will show up in the downloadable file. This can take a few minutes, and clears any flags that you fixed.
    • You can still edit the transcript again after finalizing if needed

Finalize file button

  • Once the file has finalized, click on the Quick Download icon and download both the SRT and the Word files.
  • You are now ready to publish the SRT caption file with your video.
  • Make sure the Word file is accessible before you post it along with your captioned video (see the Word tutorial).
    • You can convert to accessible PDF if you prefer (see the PDF tutorial).
Quick download dropdown menu showing SRT and Word Doc as options

You can upload a caption file for any videos you have uploaded into Canvas. The caption file must be in SRT or VTT format. These instructions assume that you already have the file ready to go. If you don't have a caption file, see Captioning Videos for options.

  • Click on the video in the Rich Content Editor to enlarge the video window. Hover over the CC icon to open the closed-caption options, then click on Upload subtitles.

Canvas video upload subtitles menu

  • Go to step 3, and click the drop-down menu to Choose a Language.
  • Click on Choose File to select the caption file, then click Open.
  • Once the file name shows up, you can click the Upload button.

Canvas Create/add subtitles menu, Step 3: choose a language and file to upload

Canvas Captioning Resources

Free Captioning Options

For departments with budget limitations, it is possible to create captions yourself for free. Below are some free tools to explore if this is your only option.

To use the transcription and captioning tools in YouTube, you must have rights to the video in question. You can either create your own YouTube account, or you can login to an existing account and create transcripts and captions for video content in that account.

Edit Auto-Captions for Accuracy

Once a video is uploaded, YouTube will automatically caption the video using voice recognition software. Auto-captions must be edited for accuracy, but they are a good place to start. You can also upload a completed transcript if you already have one. These instructions are for editing existing captions.

  • Go to the Video Manager
  • Next to the video you want to edit, select Edit > Subtitles and CC
  • Click on the track you want to edit. For automatic captions, this will be English (Automatic).
  • Click inside any line in the caption track panel and edit the text.
  • Click Save changes.
  • This will create another track that includes your revisions.

YouTube subtitle editing screen

YouTube Captioning Resources

Amara is a free DIY service for creating video captions (subtitles). One benefit of Amara is its integration with Canvas, but it can also be used independently of Canvas.

  1. Create an Amara account
  2. Copy the url of your hosted video into Amara
  3. Add new language (Select the same language for both primary language and subtitle language)
  4. Type the captions as you listen to the video
  5. Save and export the subtitle file
  6. Upload the subtitle file to your video host

Amara adding subtitle screen

Amara Captioning Resources