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Captioning & description

What is captioning?

Captions are meant to support people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They are different from subtitles, which are only meant to translate dialogue for viewers who speak a different language. Subtitles assume the audience can hear music, background sounds, or non-verbal content. Captions, by contrast, will include these sounds in addition to all dialogue. They will describe sound effects, the type of music playing, or if the speaker has an accent.

Captions have been shown to support the learning of students who speak English as an additional language, students with learning disabilities, and students who are new to a discipline and may be unfamiliar with unique terminology.

Why do captions matter?

Watch the following video from the #captionTHIS movement.

Open versus closed captioning

There are two types of captioning: open and closed. Open or “hard” captions are permanently embedded in the video stream and cannot be turned off by the user. Closed captions contain the exact same text as open captions, although users have the ability to toggle them on or off using the video player.

There are different factors to consider when deciding between open or closed captioning, such as the target audience, where it’s being uploaded, what video player or platform, and accessibility features of the video player.

Most video player technologies today have vastly improved accessibility features, giving users more control on how captions are displayed. For example, both YouTube and Facebook video players give users control on the text size, colour, background colour and opacity of closed captions. YouTube also provides a transcript that can be followed along line by line with a timestamp. Additionally, if there’s a mistake in the captions it’s far easier to make corrections as opposed to editing a video with embedded/open captions, saving you time and resources.

You might consider using open captions if the video will be uploaded or displayed on a video player that doesn’t support captioning, video is embedded in presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint), displayed on TV signage that may not have sound, or if the video file is downloadable and being shared with multiple people.

How to caption videos

There are many tools available to approach captioning. Below are just a couple of recommended suggestions. If you want to try captioning videos yourself, we recommend checking out the following resources:

YouTube provides free, easy-to-use captioning tools for beginners.

  • Ability to upload an existing subtitles file or track.
  • Paste in a full transcript of the video and subtitle timings can be set automatically. Great for videos that follow a script!
  • Edit automatically generated (English) subtitles. Best for live videos which do not follow a script.
  • Create subtitles and closed captions by typing them in as you watch the video.

The following video demonstrates how to edit YouTube's automatically generated captions. This is one of the easiest methods of captioning a video when there isn't a pre-written script. Please note that the automated captions may take a while to process after uploading a video.


Read more about YouTube Closed Captioning., external link

There are companies that specialize exclusively in the creation of captions. With the support of specialized captioners, they are able to produce captions that are accurate and follow proper captioning conventions and guidelines. 

If you choose not to go the do-it-yourself route, we recommend setting aside some funds to order captions.

Ryerson faculty & staff: For a list of recommended captioning services, please contact us.

Live captioning for events

Similar to closed captioning on a video; live captioning is done live in real-time where a person listens in remotely over the internet (via Skype for example) or phone, and delivers the reproduced text instantaneously on a projected screen, TV or a user’s mobile device.

For more information, please visit Remote Captioning for Events.

Closed captions in Google Slides

Google Slides now has a closed captioning feature when presenting your next lecture or presentation. It uses your computer’s microphone to detect your voice and transcribes it in real time as you are presenting.


Learn more about the feature: Present with closed captions in Google Slides.

Audio description

Audio description, also commonly known as described video, is an additional narration track that describes what is happening on screen (usually between natural pauses in dialogue) to provide additional context.


The following video features audio description.

Information for faculty & staff 

As stipulated by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) Level A standards: all videos or audio that will be posted on a website or within a D2L course shell must be captioned and/or transcribed. Videos or audio used in your course made by a third party must be captioned upon request.

Classroom accommodations

If you have a student in your course who requires captioned media, please contact Library Accessibility Services as soon as possible. Library Accessibility Services will work with everyone involved to ensure access to course materials, including the student, instructor and Academic Accommodation Support.