Why Captioned Media Provides Equal Access

Captioning of audiovisual media not only provides essential access for deaf people, but can also benefit emerging readers, visual learners, people with auditory processing issues, non-native speakers, and many others. Captions are the textual representation of audio content in a video format. Captions convey who is speaking, environmental sounds, and spoken dialogue.

Can Other Accommodations be Used Instead of Captions for Video Content?

Only time-synced, verbatim captions provide full and equitable access to video content. Captions are the only type of accommodation that appears directly on the video, meaning that it does not require that the deaf viewer’s attention be divided between the video and another source of information. Interpreting, speech-to-text services, or transcripts all require that the deaf person look away from the screen, which will result in missing on-screen information. Therefore, these accommodations will not provide complete access.

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Reasons Why Captions Provide Effective Access

Edited, time-coded and synced media caption are less likely to contain errors than sign language interpretation and speech-to-text services.

The information conveyed by sign language interpretation and speech-to-text services is always at least somewhat delayed.

It can be difficult for deaf viewers to figure out when and where to start reading a transcript, given that they don’t have full auditory access to the media.

Are There Standards for Captions?

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The FCC has set forth quality standards for closed captioning on television. These regulations require that the captions be accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed.

In addition, The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) has developed in-depth, research-based guidelines for captions.

Additionally, visit the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to review the criteria for pre-recorded captioning. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines success criteria for pre-recorded captioning

What are the Various Types of Media Captioning?

A wide array of captioning types exist. Some types are more effective than others. The following types are most commonly used.

Offline Captions

Offline captioning refers to captions that are added in the post-production process. Offline captioning allows for the most accurate captioning possible.

Open Captions

Open captions refers to captions that are part of the video image. They are always present and cannot be turned off.

Closed Captions

Closed captions refers to captions that are encoded in the video signal. They can be turned on or off.

Subtitles for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Subtitles for Deaf and Hard of Hearing is a phrase occasionally used to refer to captions. When this terminology is used, it is best to check that captions–complete with auditory cues–are present, rather than just subtitles.

Roll-Up Captions

Roll-up captions begin at the bottom of the screen and scroll up two to three lines at a time. When the top line scrolls off the screen, a new line is added to the bottom. The scrolling motion can be difficult to read for extended periods of time.

Pop-On Captions

Pop-on captions appear on the screen one to two lines at a time. This type is preferred because it is easier to read.


Subtitles are designed for hearing people who do not speak the language used in the video. Subtitles translate the dialogue into another language for the viewer. They do not include cues to audible sounds, such as music or a doorbell ringing.

Realtime Captioning *

Realtime captioning refers to captions that are created in real time while an event is taking place. Due to the nature of some events, such as emergencies or breaking news stories, some captions must be produced live. This type of captioning has a higher rate of errors, and therefore should be used only when offline captioning is not possible.

Speech-to-Text *

Speech-to-text is an umbrella term used to describe an accommodation in which spoken communication and other auditory information is translated into text in real time. A service provider types what is heard and the text appears on a screen for the viewer to read.

* Realtime captioning and speech-to-text are communication access services. For more info on realtime captioning and speech-to-text services, please see our STTS topic page.

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