How to make your teaching videos accessible (and why)

How making video content accessible promotes inclusion and empowers more learners
Molly McCracken
July 25, 2020

Recently, I asked a group of educators how they’d make teaching videos accessible this fall. Many of the suggestions, which I’ve included in this post, were easy and actionable.

But one response stood out to me:

If this is required, your district should deal with it. Not you.

Yes, districts need to be equipping teachers to make accommodations for their students.

But teachers need to be thinking about accessibility differently, too. What I took away from this response is the perspective of thinking of accessibility “as a requirement” only.

Accessibility is often thought of this way, as a “requirement,” rather than as a “feature.”

The truth is, accessible content is better for all of us.

As learners, we all benefit when we can consume content more easily, in different ways, at different times.

Let’s start looking at making our content accessible as simply empowering more learners.

What makes a video “accessible”?

Depending on the content your video contains, the Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) outlines four key areas for improving accessibility on video content:

  1. Closed captioning (subtitles) of the video content
  2. Separate text-based transcript of the video content
  3. Audio descriptions of visual information
  4. Other accessibility features, such as American Sign Language (ASL) translation

Not all videos, and not all users, require all accessibility features.

With everything you’re taking on this fall, trying to make teaching videos accessible may feel overwhelming.

However, these extra steps can be transformative to student learning.

Plus, this article is here to help to make it more manageable.

Whether or not you are required to make your video content accessible, adding accessibility features will enhance learning opportunities for 100% of your students.

Why you should make your videos accessible (even if you don’t have to)

Adding accessibility features, in particular closed captions, to your videos make them better teaching materials by providing an additional pathway to learning for all students.

Captions provide more ways to learn

Depending on how each student processes information, combined with their existing content knowledge, closed captioning can enhance the learning experience by offering additional formats.

"Accurate captions have been shown to boost intake and comprehension for all," said Rob Harvie, an accessibility expert from Inclusive Media and Design, in an interview.

"Plus, everyone can benefit from glimpsing at that 16-syllable polymer chain, or the surname of a long-gone German philosopher, spelled correctly as it’s spoken."

For some learners, the ability to read, while listening, could significantly help support content retention.

By presenting both audio and visual content, together, students can opt into the method of delivery that works best for them leading to enhanced comprehension.

Captions support English language learners. For English language learners, giving students the option to watch content through once without captions and then once with captions can help build language skills plus support comprehension and understanding. Subtitles on classic movies are famous for helping language learners, your lessons can serve to help as well.

Captions can help with literacy development

Adding closed captioning can help improve literacy. There are a handful of studies that point to captions as helping improve reading skills, spelling, and vocabulary.

In fact, you can turn the act of using closed captions into language lessons. Students may review lessons to look for heteronyms, homophones, and phrases that are spelled differently than expected.

Captions aid learners temporary audio limitations

At home or in public spaces, students could have any number of distractions, such as background noise or other family members speaking. Students may not have access to quality headphones or need to share headphones with siblings.

In both cases, relying on audio alone may make learning challenging. Closed captioning offers these learners an alternative way to consume the lesson while staying on track.

And the obvious reason: To make your content accessible

14 percent of American students in the 2018-2019 school year had a disability. Internationally, it’s estimated that the number of individuals with disabilities ranges between ten and 20 percent of the population.

If you have students with learning disabilities, who are deaf, or who experience mild-to-moderate hearing loss, you can use closed captions to ensure they are able to participate.

Tap into resources at your school or district if you have them, to support students in more ways.

Closed captioning vs. text transcripts

If you’ve done the work to generate closed captions, taking the extra step to generate a transcript can be helpful as well.

Along with all of the reading benefits of closed captioning above, text transcriptions outside of videos have added benefits in the broader definition of digital access.

Transcripts are easier to translate for families with tools like Google translate. For families at home with limited English proficiency, the opportunity for quick translations will enable them to help students with homework, studying, or simply to enable a discussion over dinner.

Transcripts support families with low internet bandwidth. If opportunities to stream video content is limited, students will be able to review the content covered offline or on a limited connection far more easily.

How to add closed captioning to your videos

Okay, you’re sold on why.

Now, how do you do it?

Look to Google Suite for live teaching

When presenting in Google Slides, you can turn on automatic captions that are powered by machine learning. Like other machine learning and AI solutions, these captions won’t be perfect, but they provide a better solution than “nothing at all.”

Check the resource section of your favorite video tools

Fortunately, for all of us, many of the video tools we know and love offer captioning solutions!

How-to: Add captions to videos using YouTube

YouTube provides a great option for hosting captioned videos in a format widely supported by most ed tech tools (including Spaces!)

Worried about security? You can add your videos as unlisted to YouTube enabling you to keep them private to appear only where the link is shared.

YouTube generates automatic captions through machine learning algorithms. You should always review in detail.

First, you’ll want to make sure (especially with homophones, the spelling of names and places) the correct word was recognized.

Second, look to add grammar to help with understanding.

You can see the difference between the two options in any of our videos on the Spaces YouTube channel by toggling between the auto-generated and provided subtitles.

An image showing where to toggle captions on YouTube

Here's one video to try clicking on the "CC" icon:

In YouTube’s video studio, you can enable automatic captions and edit them to fix any spelling issues, word mishaps, and improve grammar.
Preview of YouTube Stud

Additional Resources

W3C’s “Making Audio and Video Media Accessible” is very helpful in considering next steps for your class, school, or district.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility has provided a great checklist for making your content accessible.

Molly McCracken

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