Accessibility in Video

If you’ve been paying attention so far, you may be afraid to hear the accessibility story for web video. Don’t be! It’s actually not that bad, considering. All of the major players—QuickTime, Windows Media, RealPlayer, and Flash Player—support captioning. In fact, captioning is so well supported that there are scads of different formats to choose from!

Oh, wait. That’s not a good thing. But it could be a lot worse.

The reason captioning is such a mature technology is simple: it’s been around for decades. The French Chef, in 1971, was the first program to be “open-captioned,” meaning that captions were overlaid on (or “burned into”) the source so that all viewers could see them. The Captioned ABC News, which was also open-captioned, made its debut in 1973. The closed captioning system, made official in 1980, uses extra bandwidth in the TV signal to send a captioning signal, which is decoded by a receiver, that used to be a set-top box intended for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. But by 1993, closed captioning decoders were required on all televisions 13” and larger. These days, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who hasn’t seen captions, if only on the screen at her local sports bar.

Captioning often gets conflated with two similar terms, so let’s get them straight here:


Word-for-word copies of what was spoken. They may also contain audio or visual cues, such that the transcript itself makes sense without the source material. Transcripts are not ...

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