Archive for June, 2013

Accessibility Tips and Techniques: Making your Multimedia Work

As a Student Affairs professional who works on web accessibility and faculty training initiatives, I am often struck by the degree to which people are unaware of the benefits of subtitle files.

First, understand the value and benefits of subtitle files:

  • Search engines leverage video transcripts
  • Subtitles can be translated into other languages
  • Interactive transcripts allow users to search or scan the dialogue and jump to key locations

Second, consider the wide range of people who benefit from accessible multimedia:

  • People who can’t hear
    • Those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
    • Those whose speakers are not working
    • Those in noisy environments
    • People who need a multimodal presentation
      • Those whose first language is not English
      • Those who learn better visually
      • Everyone – via search engines seeking key words and interactive transcripts

Understanding the options

If you love Vimeo – know that it doesn’t support captions at all. If you have or use content hosted there, and want to offer captions, you’ll have to use an additional layer, such as Amara, which used to be called Universal Subtitles. It allows anyone to grab a url then create a subtitle file in a choice of languages. Links or embed code can then be used to share.  It’s all about crowd sourcing our way to a more accessible tomorrow!

YouTube does support captions directly, which is nice, and there are additional features available, including automatic translation. HOWEVER it is important to be cautious and exercise appropriate quality control mechanisms.

If you do have quality captions in one language, then, you can try using the automatic language translation. Typically it will do a pretty good job at the word for word translation, but may not always get it quite right on the meaning for meaning.

Another great tip, is that when searching for videos on YouTube, if you want to find options that are already captioned, you can enter your search term, followed by a comma and the letters cc. This will apply a filter to your search results, just be sure to be wary of automatic translations

. youtube pic blog

If you have created a video and it needs to be captioned, there are a variety of free subtitle creation tools to choose from. For a good review check out Terrill Thompson’s blog posts.

Also, keep an eye on the html5 player situation – as described on this 3play blog there is great promise.

Making it happen

Consider outsourcing options – a contract set up with integration in the standard business flow, can be great – especially with pooled funding.

Home grown work flows can work if properly cultivated – staff may perform captioning duties, or content creators might include captioning  as outlined in accessibility policies.

There is an additional workflow though, which is not as common (yet!), but holds enormous potential. It is the work flow that comes from a connection with education through service learning courses or internship opportunities.

The bottom line is that multimedia content is really helpful, and when it is accessible, and affords users a flexible experience, it is even better. We can choose to adopt captioned content, and to create and share subtitles, and by doing so, we extend our reach, meet our student’s needs, and align with institutional initiatives aimed at honoring diversity and promoting student success.

Kaela Parks is Disability Services Director at Portland Community College. She has developed and taught an accessible multimedia service learning course and can be reached at


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