Captions for Videos and Live Events

Captioned Video


Film, television, sports, broadcast news, live events, and online video content form a large part of the Canadian experience, and discussing what we’ve seen on television or on a video posted on social media is a significant part of our public dialogue. It’s inequitable if people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing are left out of the conversation because they are unable to access the same video content. Captions make video and live events available to more viewers which broadens the audience for content creators and media makers.

In this section, we will learn how captions make video content more accessible for people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, and other people who benefit from captions.

Developing an Understanding

The terms "captions" and "subtitles" are sometimes used interchangeably. Both captions and subtitles appear as text on screen but in Canada, captions are not the same thing as subtitles. When subtitles are being used in a video, their purpose is to translate the language of the video into English, French, or whichever language the audience is fluent in. In Canada, a Russian film might have subtitles in English or French so that an audience who does not speak Russian can understand the story.

One significant difference between subtitles and captions is that subtitles only show the words that are said on screen (The Closed Captioning Project, n.d.). Captions, on the other hand, translate all of the sounds in a video into onscreen text. Captions tell the audience who is speaking, what sounds are being included as part of the story, and what tone people are taking if it’s important to the meaning of the text. They also use a music note icon and the music lyrics when a song is playing (CRTC, 2016).

There are two types of captions: closed captions and open captions.

 Closed caption logo

Closed Captions

Closed captions need to be turned on by the viewer either with a remote control or by pressing a CC button on a video player or on a video sharing site like YouTube or Vimeo (Ai-Media, 2017). Many broadcast media channels have a closed captioning option that you can access by pressing a CC button on most TV remote controls made after 1993 (CRTC, 2016).

There are two main types of closed captions, roll-up and pop-on. Roll-up captions are used for live television broadcasts and these captions scroll up the screen one line at a time. Pop-on captions appear in blocks, two lines at a time on screen and the text is typically more synced with the audio (3PlayMedia, 2014).

Open caption logo

Open Captions

In contrast, open captions are always on. Open captions, also known as burned-in, on-line or embedded captions, are visible to everyone who watches the video. Open captions are permanently on the video and can’t be turned on or off (Ai-Media, 2017).

Open captions are part of the video stream, whereas closed captions exist as a separate text stream. When captions are saved as text, you can archive and index video content and search for specific video content within these archives; this ability is lost with open captions. Also, open captions, unlike closed captions, may lose quality when the encoded video is compressed or reduced in size (University of Washington, 2017).

Perhaps most obviously, captions make broadcast media content more accessible to people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, but there are many benefits to captions beyond that. Captions can help people learning to read identify words, understand meaning, and establish a link between the written word, the spoken word, and images. Captions can provide missing information for people who have difficulty processing speech and sound components of visual media. Additionally, captions can provide a solution to poor audio quality, may help people notice details they may have missed and enable people to enjoy TV programming video in restaurants, gyms, on transit, and other locations where the sound is often turned off. And captioned video meets AODA and International Web Accessibility guidelines, along with state, provincial and federal requirements (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.).

Deepening Your Understanding:

In 2016, Humber College Professor Anne Zbitnew and Hillary Rexe facilitated a research project with students recruited from the Media Foundation program in the Faculty of Media & Creative Arts (FMCA). The project was called Beyond Compliance: A Student-Centered Study on Accessible and Inclusive Video Captioning and the research question asked was: How does learning how to caption video affect student perception of the importance of inclusive design in video content?

Student participants attended two workshops facilitated by Charles Silverman, an adjunct professor from the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University where they learned about captioning history, transcription and captioning grammar and experimented with various techniques and applications of video captioning. Each participant completed an entrance survey, an exit survey and a video exit interview and their responses helped develop tools for further inquiry into inclusive design and accessibility in the Faculty of Media & Creative Arts at Humber College. The participants also learned hard skills for captioning video that can be used in all their video capture assignments at Humber College and these skills can also be used in a future workplace environment.

Former Humber College Film students Alex Vaillancourt and Julien Zakrzewski documented the workshops, recorded interviews and captured and edited the following video.

Here are some selected student interview responses to questions about captioning video:

left quote icon

You can actually learn new vocabulary.

You can actually understand what they're saying easier, and it's an overall better learning experience and viewing experience of whatever you’re watching, TV, film, whatever.

right quote icon

left quote icon

I don't read a lot of books, but I read a lot of subtitles. It's like reading a script for me, so I find that very helpful because I want to do filmmaking and script writing and all that. It's just helpful to know the flow and everything.

Because I oftentimes miss words, I miss things that are said. It also helps with comprehension. If there's a word I don't know, if I see it, chances are, I'll understand it better. I like to read as I watch. It helps with memorizing words.

right quote icon

left quote icon

I use captioning when watching movies. With background noise, you do miss a large part of the dialogue. I do not like listening to TV or music very loud.

Closed captioning is literally the best resource for anyone with ADHD because your mind races a mile a minute and sometimes you can't catch up with what they are saying on TV but your eyes can read that fast or vice versa. I am pro-closed captioning!

right quote icon