Guidelines for Captioning Materials

Current media usage, both in the classroom and on the web, often presents barriers to persons with disabilities. As more web and classroom content includes video and audio components at USM institutions, there is an increasing need for captioning, as well as descriptive audio. Under the ADA, captioning and audio description are necessary and required to make audio and audiovisual media accessible. Descriptive audio, also referred to as video description, is an additional narrative track intended primarily for persons who are blind or have low vision who are using visual media. It consists of a narrator talking through the presentation, describing what is happening on the screen during natural pauses in the audio. The American Council of the Blind maintains a list of audio description service vendors at:

The demand for captioning far exceeds the need for audio description at USM institutions. Captioning enables a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to view a presentation and read what is being said simultaneously. Captioning is also beneficial for students with learning disabilities and ADHD, as well as for students whose primary language is not English.

Captioning Accessibility Guidelines

All USM institutions should have a campus-wide captioned media policy and/or guidelines. Recognizing the challenge of captioning all video content, the following set of guidelines is an example of what campuses could use to prioritize audiovisual and audio media for captioning.

  1. Captioning Required:
    • Captioning should be required for the following types of media:
      • Media used for instructional purposes for a student enrolled at the University who is deaf or hard of hearing and registered with Disability Support Services
      • Media used for instructional purposes provided to the general public through the University’s own website or services such as YouTube, iTunes U, and edX
      • Media used to orient, publicize, promote or explain the University and its services that is intended to reach the general public (e.g., Admissions, Orientation, University Advancement, etc.)
      • Media intended to reach the general public that is linked to the University website
  2. Captioning Encouraged:
    • Captioning is strongly encouraged for all online audio and audiovisual media that will be used in the future for an open audience. For example, if a video is used regularly to teach a class, there is an increased likelihood that a student in the future will need it captioned. It is much more efficient for an institution to think about accessibility prospectively when developing online course content than to attempt to make the content accessible in a timely manner upon notice of a student’s need.
  3. Captioning Not Required:
    • Captioning need not be required for media that will be used for a limited duration when the audience is consistently restricted to a group of users who are known not to need captioning. For example, if access is restricted by some means such as Moodle, and it is known that no one in the class needs it, captioning is not necessary. However, if an institution receives notice of a student’s need for captioning at any time, the institution must make the content accessible in a timely manner.

General Captioning

Given the scope of captioning needs at all institutions, establish a fund at the institution and/or USM level to help ensure that captioning requirements are met.

Adopt a proactive approach for captioning course videos that encourages faculty to caption media even without identified students requiring captioning.

Review campus web sites for video content that should be captioned, prioritize it for captioning and take action to caption it.

Provide awareness and training to the campus community about captioning requirements, the options (e.g., providing a transcript) and available resources to support captioning.

Implement administrative methods to monitor compliance with captioning requirements and to solicit, receive, and respond to feedback regarding captioning.