How to create captioning and described video

Before captioning or describing a video, it is important to review the following tips and strategies for creating accessible media.

Tips and Guidelines for Creating Captioned Videos

Captioned Videos are word-to-word translation of spoken dialogue of a video or movie. To produce successful captions consider the following checklist:

  • Captions are synchronized with audio
  • Captions are equivalent and equal in content to the audio
  • Captions should identify speakers when more than one person is on-screen or when the speaker is not visible
  • Captions should contain simple description (e.g., identify sound effects, that the text is being sung, any specific emphasis) if it adds to the meaning of the content
  • Captions are verbatim whenever possible
  • Captions preserve all actual words, as well as slang and dialect (and even profanity, unless the audio has also been edited e.g. “bleep”)
  • Captions have correct spelling and punctuation
  • Captions appear on-screen long enough to be read
  • Captions are easy to access (e.g. turn on and off)
  • Captions are large enough to read and have sufficient contrast with the background
  • Captions should not cover visual images that are required to understand the message unless there are no alternative options
  • Captions should have a consistent approach to content, style, format, and placement (e.g. consistent description of non-speech sounds, identification of the speaker, etc.) within the video or series of related videos

More information on the above guidelines for captioning can be found on the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Closed Captioning Standards and Protocol for Canadian English Language Television Programming Service (2012).

Tips and Guidelines for Creating Described Videos

A described video provides an objective description of the key visual cues in media used in conjunction with the original audio component. Recommendations for post-production described videos were developed by Accessible Media Inc. and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters include the following:

  • Role of the describer: A consistent style and flow needs to be provided. Also repetition and step-by-step wording should be avoided. The describer needs to describe the program as it occurs and to place images in the mind of the viewers. The describer needs to avoid telling the story and make sure not to reveal or spoil the story. Describer needs to be careful not to explain more than the visual perspective.
  • Individual Physical Characteristics: It is not required for the describer to identify the race or ethnic origins of the characters unless it is relevant to the plot or motivation of the program. It is required that the describer avoids making assumptions about interpretation of emotions, reactions and character traits. In addition, she or he must avoid implying any idea through description. Characters need to be described in a consistent way using same generic attributes.
  • Scene Transitions: Natural flow of the program needs to be followed when describing the scene transitions. The describer needs to specify only once the new location and timing. Common terminology needs to be used for this purpose such as: “Later”, “meanwhile”, “next day”, “that night”, “in daytime”.
  • Visual Effects: Describing the lighting changes in scene needs to be provided within those for scene transitions. When color has symbolic or stylistic importance, it needs to be described as well.
  • Non-Verbal/ Sound communications: Actions that are not heard need to be described. Describing needs to take place at the same time that action takes place. The describer needs to allow the music and sound effects to tell the story, but should describe a sound when it is out of context – preferably before the sound as opposed to after the sound. However when the source of the sound and speech is not identified, the source needs to be described. Descriptions should not interfere with sounds or music that are key to the story.
  • Titles, Subtitles, Credits, Text on screen: Titles, logos and standard credits need to be included in describing. When a text appears on the screen, in order to describe the text, the describer says the words such as “ title, “ subtitle”, ”caption”, “logo”, ”credits”, ”end reads” followed by describing the content.
  • Style and Tone: The description needs to match the style and tone of the show. Description verbs need to be used to reduce repetition and improving the experience. In addition, narration needs to be in third person using present, continuous present, and present participle tenses.

Read more about best practices on the AMI “What is Described Video” page. If you are involved in the creation of a video, read the Integrated Described Video Best Practices Guide (found on the same page) to read recommendations on developing a more inclusively designed video.  

Resources for Captioning and Describing Videos

Captioning & Video (Audio) Description Tools & Software

Several options exist for creating captioned and described videos, which can include either the use of web-based tools, desktop programs or open-source software. The resources listed below provide information on various tools and software for creating captions, subtitles, and audio description authoring tools.

Bill Creswell’s blog – Captioning the Internet one video at a time

University of Washington – Captioning Your Own Video for Free

Described and Captioned Media Program: