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Closed Captioning Best Practices and Quality Regulations

Here at Transcription City, we believe that all video and audio (whether online or broadcast) should be accessible to all. New regulations and laws have been brought into force on a global scale. This is to ensure that viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing have the means to enjoy all video and television programmes. With this in mind, we thought we’d offer some guidance to video producers. As well as video production companies and our clients on how to comply with these rules. A guide to closed captioning best practices and quality regulations.

In today’s digital landscape, providing accessible video content is not only a moral imperative but a legal necessity. Closed captioning (CC) is an essential tool that makes video content inclusive and meets the regulatory standards set forth in various jurisdictions across the globe. Content Creators, Video Editors, Accessibility Advocates, and video production companies need to understand the nuances of creating high-quality closed captions and staying compliant with accessibility laws.

Closed captioning is more than just a textual representation of the spoken word for those who are deaf or hard of hearing; it’s a method of communication that transcends barriers, offering comprehension to non-native speakers, individuals with autism, ADHD, and literacy challenges. This comprehensive guide will walk you through every aspect of creating closed captions, ensuring that your video content meets accessibility standards and provides a seamless viewing experience for all.

Understanding Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is a visual display of the audio content in a video, overlaying text on the screen in synchrony with the dialogue or action-taking place. Unlike open captions, viewers have the option to enable or disable closed captions, hence the name. The purpose of closed captioning is to provide a text-based equivalent of the audio track to ensure comprehension for those who are unable to hear the audio feed.

Legal Requirements and Regulations

Understanding the legal landscape of closed captioning is crucial. For example, in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) require that video content distributed on television and the internet be accessible through closed captioning. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established rules and best practices that ensure the quality and comprehensibility of closed captioning.

Preparation for Closed Captioning

Before diving into the actual process of captioning, there are several essential steps that need to be addressed to set the stage for high-quality closed captions.

Transcribing the Video Content

Begin by transcribing the spoken words in your video.  Remember, accuracy of the transcript is key to producing useful closed captions.

Accurately Transcribed Closed Captioning

The dialogue, off-screen audio, music and any other sound effects must be accurately transcribed and displayed. Speakers and change of speakers should also be easily distinguished and identified.

Formatting the Captions for Readability

The format of your closed captions is as important as the content. Ensure that text color and size provide sufficient contrast against the background. Use a font that is easy to read and consider the length of captions on screen to avoid overwhelming the viewers. A good rule of thumb is to limit caption duration to two lines of text whenever possible.

Closed Caption Placement

The placement of closed captions should be such that text is positioned so that it does not obstruct or distort the video (this includes any information or action essential to plot and if applicable, featured graphics or text).

Closed Captioning Best Practices and Quality Regulations

Best Practices for Closed Captioning

Now that you have a clear transcript and a plan for formatting your captions, it’s time to dive into the best practices for the actual captioning process.

Accuracy and Synchronisation with the Audio

Ensure that your captions are aligned with the spoken words in the video with split-second precision. Incorrect placement can lead to a disconnect between the audio and visual cues, which can be jarring for viewers relying on the captions for context.

Perfectly Synchronised Closed Captions

Closed Captions should be in synchronicity with the spoken dialogue, any song lyrics, sound effects and all off-screen audio. The closed captions also need to appear at a speed and rate that is optimum for readability. Not too fast and not too much text to read at once.

Proper Use of Punctuation and Grammar

Adhere to proper grammar and punctuation rules. Use periods to indicate complete sentences and commas to represent natural pauses in speech. This not only improves readability but also conveys the proper cadence and timing of the spoken word.

Use of Speaker Identification and Sound Effects

In scenarios with multiple speakers, use speaker identification (e.g., “John: Hello, Mary.”) to clarify who is talking. Incorporate sound effects by using [brackets] to specify non-vocal audio cues, which fosters a more immersive experience for all viewers.

Quality Control and Review

Once your closed captions have been created, the work isn’t over. Quality control is paramount to ensuring a seamless and accessible viewing experience.

Closed Captioning Quality Control

When providing closed captioning, it is essential that the information produced is of the highest quality. Accuracy of the text (both spoken dialogue and off camera sounds) as well as timings should be correct for synchronicity. The whole programme should include captioning from beginning to end. And the location of the closed captions should not obstruct any information crucial to the comprehension of the programme.

To elaborate, these main areas of closed captioning quality control are as follows…

Checking for Errors and Inconsistencies

Review your closed captions thoroughly for spelling errors, grammar inconsistencies, and content accuracy. Utilize spell check tools and proofreaders to maintain the integrity of your captions.

Editing and Revising the Captions

If errors are detected, make the necessary edits and revisions. Seek feedback from individuals who rely on closed captions to ensure that the final product meets their needs and expectations.


Complete Closed Captioning

Closed captions should run for the entire duration of a programme, video or film. From the opening credits, to the closing credits.

Closed Captions Best Practices and Quality Control

When preparing or outsourcing your closed captions to a closed captioning services company bear this in mind. There are a number of things you can do to ensure that your project runs smoothly. Firstly, it is essential that you stipulate your exact requirements and find a vendor that uses experienced captions. This means properly trained, experienced, vetted and periodically checked video captioners. We recommend that you always review your closed captions before going to air. Ensure you leave sufficient time for any corrections to be made. It is always prudent to provide any useful information to the transcriptionist. They will prepare the pre-captioning script, this includes spellings of names, companies, technical terms, drug names (if applicable), abbreviations and song lyrics. If there are any issues, a good video transcription or closed captioning company will always welcome feedback. Including positive and negative feedback as this will allow you to grow a great business relationship and understanding.

Accessibility Guidelines and Resources for Further Learning

Familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and seek out accessibility-focused organizations for additional resources. Organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provide detailed guidelines and tutorials for creating accessible content.

Live Captioning Services

We recommend that you use a live captioners for live broadcast shows. Stenography is the most accurate form of live captioning service.

If you would like more information about our video transcription services, closed captioning services, foreign language subtitling services or translation services, feel free to get in touch. We are available seven days a week and always happy to help. We believe in accessibility for all, so if you have any queries regarding our services for the deaf and hard of hearing, or blind and hard of seeing, please get in touch.

For more information on closed captioning best practices and regulations you can view Ofcom guidelines on closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing here or if in the US, FCC guidelines on Closed Captioning (Quality Report and Order here).

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As you create your video content, remember that closed captioning or subtitling is not just a compliance checkbox; it’s an essential component of inclusion and ensures a wider reach for your message. By following the best practices and quality regulations outlined in this guide, you can produce closed captions that resonate with all viewers. Embrace the opportunity to make a difference and take a proactive approach to accessibility in your content creation journey.

For all your closed captioning needs, reach out to professionals like Transcription City, who can guarantee services that meet your every requirement. High-quality closed captioning is within your grasp, and the impact it creates for a broader audience is immeasurable.

We also provide transcription services, translation services, minute taking, interview transcription and note taking services. Get in touch anytime we are happy to help.