Adding Captions to Youtube Videos

Adding Captions to Youtube VideosIn Buying Power of Persons with Disabilities, Karl Grove carefully analyzes statistics about the number of users who need your site to be accessible. Despite noting that some of the statistics could be overinflated, he still advocates for accessibility:

In some cases, persons with disabilities which require an accessible site can amount to 7-10% of your potential visitors. Can you afford to lose 7-10% of your website’s visitors? Or, put another way, would you like to gain an additional 7-10% more users? Make an accessible web experience and publicize it well and you may capture some of them and see some direct ROI from accessibility.

Today I was uploading some instructional videos that our audiovisual crew put together. Were it not for the constant reminders that people from Accessibility SIG relay to me, I probably wouldn’t have done anything to make the videos more accessible. But it turns out that making videos accessible on Youtube for hearing-disabled people is quite easy, since in most cases, corporate-produced videos already have transcripts.

Youtube makes it really easy to sync the transcript with voice. When you upload the transcript in the video’s settings, Google’s voice recognition software automatically matches up the words with the video timeline, syncing the two. It’s so easy that neglecting to upload the transcript for a Youtube video (if you have it) is downright lazy.

Here’s an example of that captioning. Click the CC button in the video bar.

In my particular case, I don’t know how many disabled users will need the captioning, but given our worldwide audience, the captions may ease the fact that the videos aren’t yet translated into 10 other languages. People who don’t speak English might be able to read English, or through a mix of the two (reading and listening) might get a better understanding of what’s going on. That alone is a case for making the videos more accessible.

I know there’s more to video accessibility than just adding captions, but captions are a great start — and so easy.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

12 thoughts on “Adding Captions to Youtube Videos

    1. Tom Johnson

      You know, I keep waiting for those thank-you’s for the captioning, but so far I haven’t received one. Still, as long as I have the script, it requires almost no extra effort to add it to the video.

  1. Stephani

    Thanks for this post! One question: if you upload a script and it creates the timed captions, can you then download an .srt file and use it elsewhere (transcript with times stamps)? If so, this may solve a big problem we’re having!


  2. Karen Mardahl

    @Stephani – I’m going to jump in and comment. You _can_ download the file again. It’s the perfect way to make timed captions for other languages. You’ll know what text can be used in what time range. If (shameless plug) you download my slides at and read the notes on the slides, you can see how to do this. I made that little tutorial last year, but it should still be correct.

  3. Laura Mahalel

    Great tip! I can’t access youtube from work, but I get the idea. How cool that they sync for you. Wow.
    And there are many advantages to being able to watch a video without sound (sleeping baby, forgot your earphones on a plane ride…). Win-win.

  4. Don V. Stephens III


    Thanks for the writeup, and you’re right – it’s really quite easy! I’d like to point out to you that once your English SRT file is attached to the YouTube video, users can machine translate into any of the 50+ languages they support. It’s not perfect, but should be a good start towards understanding your content.


    1. Tom Johnson

      Wow, I tried this today and you’re right — there’s a machine translation into dozens of languages. Thanks for making me aware of this. It’s a great reason to caption a video.

  5. Deborah


    To follow up on Karen’s comment, yes, you can download the srt file. I do it all the time, and did it for all the short college videos where I added captions.

  6. Stephani

    Thanks to all for answering and for your insightful comments. And Karen, I viewed your slides and favorited them, they were very helpful – thank you!


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