Creating Post-Production Captions

Captioning, a textual representation of audio media, is an important accessibility tool for deaf students, and provides benefits and opportunities for learning for other people as well. There are many ways to caption instructional materials to ensure that they are accessible.

Ensuring That Your Media is Captioned

The most efficient strategy is to select media that is already captioned. While this is ideal, the reality is that the availability of captions varies greatly by media type.

Commercial media
In-house captioning
Use a vendor
Prioritize inclusive captioned media

Small or independently produced media
Automatic captions
Instructor produced media

If captioning is not readily available, there are three options: 

  1. Create the captions in-house.
  2. Outsource to a captioning vendor.
  3. Choose comparable media that is already captioned.

Most institutions use a combination of these methods, depending on the demand and the staff availability and ability to fulfill requests. A well-prepared institution will have practical timelines for requesting captioning, whether the captioning is done in-house or is outsourced.

A person typing on a laptop. The laptop screen shows a video being edited.

The Elements of In-House Captioning

In-house captioning begins with identifying who will be responsible for the work. Whether in a college campus or workplace setting, in-house captioning is most often managed by the disability office or by the ADA compliance officer. Some disability offices have the capability to caption video, while other offices turn to their institution’s media center. When considering whether to caption in-house, it’s important to think about the labor involved in each step of the captioning process. In-house captioning may seem to be the more cost-effective option, but institutions should assess whether current staff members can meet the demand.

In general, it takes a professional about 5-10 times a video’s duration to create the captions for it (i.e. an hour-long video generally will require between 5 and 10 hours of work to caption it). It likely will take significantly longer for someone who is new to captioning and/or lacks the equipment.

The amount of time required to caption videos can add up fast and overwhelm existing staff members, especially if they have additional responsibilities. A training period for staff to become proficient in the captioning process and technical support must also be factored into the overall labor cost.

Creating Captions

The basic process for creating captions includes the following:

  1. Creating a verbatim transcript of the dialogue that includes speaker identification, sound effects, and other auditory information.
  2. Using captioning software to add time codes, which then synchronize the captions with the audio.
  3. Dividing the transcript into grammatically correct lines of no more than 32 characters (including spaces) per line; each screen should have no more than two lines of text.
  4. Importing the completed caption file into the video.
The steps may seem simple, but each requires attention to detail, technical expertise, and time. The presence of words on the screen does not itself guarantee access. Poor-quality captions can cause more confusion and misunderstanding than no captions.
Captions should be no more than 32 characters per line and one or two lines of text per screen. Text should be divided at grammatically appropriate points, which increases readability. Captions should use a medium-weight, sans serif font. When possible, a translucent box should be behind the captions to increase contrast and readability. Captions should use both uppercase and lowercase letters; captions using all capital letters are among the most difficult to read. Using white text with a drop shadow makes the captions easiest to read on most backgrounds.

Considerations When Choosing a Captioning Vendor

According to the Described and Captioned Media Program Captioning Key, captions must be accurate, consistent, clear, readable, and equal. The captioning market has a wide variety in cost and quality. Institutions can shop for high-quality captions within budget. Some questions to ask include:

What is the level of technical support available?

What level of accuracy is guaranteed?

What is the typical turnaround time?

What is the price differential for rapid turnaround?


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