Fostering video accessibility through captions and subtitles has been Amara’s mission since it was created by the Participatory Culture Foundation. While video accessibility has improved over the last decade, we want to keep the conversation going to help creators take their next steps. So what exactly can creators do to make their videos accessible to audiences?

Last week, we discussed the future of video accessibility including the upcoming change from Flash to HTML5, creating a good first impression, and creating accessible text along with video content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. We would like to take the opportunity to delve further into what it means to create accessibility for online video in the age of automatically generated captioning. 

Edit auto-captions to boost video accessibility

If you host your videos on YouTube, you can take advantage of Google’s auto-captioning. In its current state, the auto-caption feature is far from a final solution to video accessibility because they can make mistakes that frustrate or alienate audiences. The best way to take advantage of this feature is to use the auto-captions as a starting point, not as the final solution for subtitles.

Review the auto-captions and be prepared to make edits to ensure that the subtitles match what is being communicated in the video. Pay close attention, because you can be surprised by the small errors that auto-captions make that seem obvious to humans. Filler words and disfluencies (um, ah, er) can be recorded as regular words (in, up, were) and change or confuse the meaning of the sentence that they are in.

Censorship worries

Sometimes, auto-captions mistakenly record swear words. After users complained, a new feature was added so that instead of recording swear words, the auto-captions would read “[__].” For videos with mistakenly swear-filled captions, this was a relief. But this new feature automatically censored auto-captions for any video with potentially “inappropriate language.” The “[__]” feature is optional and creators can choose to remove it, but it only underscores the many struggles in the automatic captioning scene. There are many viewers and creators with competing needs. For example, this new feature could be great for someone creating children’s content. But for creators that use swear words purposefully, it can be incredibly frustrating to see their words blotted out in auto-captions.

Swearing can be used as an expression of emotion, familiarity, or tone and can be a valuable tool for creators to connect with their audience. Imagine films by Scorsese or Tarantino littered with [__] in the subtitles in place of the iconic hundreds of occurrences of swear words. Captions should be used to provide access to information, not to restrict access.

As a content creator, editing your auto-captions is the best way to preserve the content that you want to communicate. You can choose to edit your own subtitles or ask for help from your community of followers and subscribers.

Human intelligence is essential in video accessibility

Negative consequences from features like the one mentioned above highlight the importance of human intelligence in the process of captioning videos. If you want to avoid the pitfalls of auto-captions and ensure final caption quality, human reviewers are absolutely essential. There is still a large gap of knowledge in language that artificial intelligence has not grasped, as displayed in the mistakes of auto-captions. 

So what can be done to avoid audience frustration and to make content more accessible? All of the effort that content creators put into building a community of followers and subscribers can be used to the benefit of that same community. As we have seen on Amara’s volunteer teams (like TED, Captions Requested, and others), many people are excited to create captions for the video content that they enjoy and review captions that others create. Read on to learn more about creating your own team of volunteers and other ways to ask for help!

Request captions for videos

If you have a specific video that you need captions for, there are a few places online where you can reach out. You can submit YouTube URLs on Rikki Poynter’s website: nomorecraptions.com. There is also a subreddit called CaptionPlease where you can post YouTube URLs and ask for volunteers to create captions or translations for the video you shared. The description of this community’s purpose is “Help make YouTube more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing viewers!” and there are over 2,000 members currently.

Create a community of captioners

With Amara Community, YouTube Creators can make a space for a team of people to create and review captions for their online videos.

Since 2010, Amara has been a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating technologies, services, and communities that ensure a more collaborative, inclusive world. We are proud to provide Amara Community as an effective and unique team environment for crowd-sourced contributions that make video content more accessible worldwide!

YouTube Creators can build an engaged community on the Amara platform and create quality captions for their audience to enjoy!

Browser add-ons for subtitles

For creators on platforms without auto-captions, you can recommend browser add-ons for viewers to add subtitles themselves. This can be especially useful if you provide subtitle files available for download. Then your viewers can download the subtitle file, enable the add-on, and enjoy accessible video content in the comfort of their personal browser.

Google Chrome has an add-on called Subtitles for YouTube where viewers can simply drag and drop .SRT subtitle files to add them to the YouTube video that they are currently playing. This add-on also allows viewers to shift subtitles forward or backwards, search and use available subtitles directly from OpenSubtitles.org or Amara.org.

Substital is available on Firefox and Google Chrome. It is integrated with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo and others. It also has a lot of features to help adjust subtitles for optimal viewing including auto-sizing and customizable styling. 
Dualsub is also available on both Firefox and Google Chrome. This add-on allows viewers to display two different languages of subtitles on the screen at the same time. This is a great feature for language learners to use to boost their vocabulary while enjoying entertainment.

About the author

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I am a Product Specialist and Recruiter for Amara. I am passionate about making online content accessible to global audiences!

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