Why you might be breaking the law if your website isn’t captioned… and how to fix it

You might not even realize it, but if your website doesn’t have closed captions, you’re breaking the law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all public-facing websites to have closed captions for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Closed captions are valuable because they provide access to a population that is often left out of the conversation. The U.S. Department of Justice considers website accessibility to be a top priority.

But they are also beneficial to everyone! They help people absorb more information and learn better. In this blog post, we’ll discuss why closed captions are so important and how you can add them to your website easily and affordably.

First… what counts as having a “public-facing website”?

The ADA defines a public-facing website as one that is “viewable by the general public.” This generally includes any website that is not behind a password or paywall. So, if your website is viewable by anyone who visits it, you need to have closed captions. You might be wondering, what about my training videos or online courses? Do those count if people need to pay for them?

The answer is yes!

Any video content that is viewable by the general public needs to be captioned. This includes videos on your website, social media, or any other platform. So if you have a YouTube channel with product videos, those need to be captioned. If you have training videos, those need to be captioned. Basically– if you post video content anywhere that is viewable by the public, it needs to be captioned.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Live events, like webinars or live broadcasts, are exempt from needing captions. And any content that is considered “fictional entertainment” is also exempt. So if you have a website with a blog and some videos of your team working in the office, those don’t need to be captioned. But if you have any recorded training videos, product videos, or other types of informational videos, they do need to be captioned.

What’s the difference between closed captions, open captions and subtitling? Does it matter?

Yes, it does matter! Closed captions are the most common type of captioning and they are the ones that you’re required to have by law. Closed captions are a text version of the audio that appears on screen. They can be turned on or off by the viewer, which is why they’re called “closed.” Open captions are always on and cannot be turned off. And subtitling is when you translate the video into another language.

So, if you need to caption your videos for ADA compliance, you’ll want to use closed captions. Closed captions also provide access to individuals using screen-readers (something that open captions do not). But there are other benefits to using closed captions as well!

Why should I add closed captions to my videos?

Besides what we’ve already established — that adding captions isn’t really a matter of preference, it’s a matter of legal compliance — adding closed captions can have many benefits. One obvious benefit is that it allows deaf and hard of hearing people to have access to your content. Accessibility should be a priority for any business, and adding captions is one way to make sure you’re being inclusive.

But captions can also benefit hearing people! Studies have shown that closed captions can help people learn better and absorb more information. This is especially true for second language learners or people who are trying to learn something new. If you have any type of content on your website that is educational or instructional in nature, adding captions can really help boost understanding and retention. (Especially for difficult, jargon-heavy videos like Registered Behavior Technician trainings or Continuing Education Units… *cough*)

How do I add closed captions to my videos?

If you’re thinking this all sounds like a lot of work, you might be surprised to know that it’s actually not! These days, there are many easy ways to add closed captions. One easy way is to use the audio from your video to auto-generate captions and then to go back and “clean up” the captions so that they are accurate and meaningful. Be careful not to skip this step! Auto-generated captions can be wildly inaccurate without a human checking them over.

Harry Potter Puppet with Dudley Puppet with autocaptions "well grandmother hopelessly from those i want to live in orange"

Quality closed captions are accurate, readable, consistent, clear and equal. If there is profanity, caption it. If people are laughing or using sound effects in the video, caption that too! You want your captions to be as representative of the audio track as possible so that viewers can follow along and understand what’s going on. Think about what information you might miss if you watched the video in mute. Are there any sounds that provide information or insight into the content? “Birds chirping” might not matter in a video about the grocery store, but it could be very relevant to a video on Skinner’s pigeons.

You can find more information about best practices for captioning on the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) website.I’ve been exploring a few different options to see what program works best for me to caption, but so far I usually sign a video, do a voice-over, use the voice-over to autogenerate captions and timing for my video and then edit the captions for accuracy.You can also hire a captioning vendor to do the work for you. This is a great option if you don’t have the time or resources to do it yourself. But hiring a vendor doesn’t have to be expensive! You can find many affordable captioning vendors who will provide high-quality captions for your videos. DCMP maintains a list of quality captioning vendors both in and outside of the United States.

Bottom line: if your website has any video content, you need to make sure it is captioned. Closed captions are required by law, but they also offer many benefits– so there’s really no excuse not to add them! Fortunately, there are many easy ways to get the job done.

So what are you waiting for? Start captioning those videos!

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