Create ADA-Compliant Video Captions

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti discrimination statute designed to ensure equal access to opportunities and benefits for qualified individuals with disabilities. In many state, government, and education institutions, videos must include ADA compliant captions.

ADA Compliancy Tips

The following are best practices for ADA compliant captions:

  • One to three lines of text appear on screen all at once, stay there for three to seven seconds, and are then replaced by another caption.
  • Timed to synchronize with the audio.
  • Do not cover up graphics and other essential visual elements of the picture.
  • Require the use of upper and lowercase letters.
  • Use a font similar to Helvetica medium.
  • Have good resolution.
  • Include not more than 32-characters-per-line.
  • To check for compliancy, select the Captions options drop down > Show non-compliant duration. This option highlights any captions in red whose duration is not between three and seven seconds.
  • Captions should be synchronized and appear at approximately the same time as the audio.
  • Words should be verbatim when time allows or as close as possible in other situations.
  • Captions should be accessible and readily available to those who need or want them.
  • Add music or other descriptions inside square brackets such as [music] or [laughter].
  • Captions should appear on screen long enough to be read.
  • It is preferable to limit on screen captions to no more than three lines.
  • Speakers should be identified when more than one person is onscreen or when the speaker is not visible.
  • Punctuation is used to clarify meaning.
  • Spelling is correct throughout the production.
  • Write out sound effects when they add to understanding.
  • All words are captioned, regardless of language or dialect.
  • Use of slang and accent is preserved and identified.
  • Use italics when a new word is being defined or a word is heavily emphasized in speech.

How Does the ADA Address Online Video Captions?

To avoid confusion, we should be clear: it doesn’t. The ADA does not specifically address online video captioning standards. This is because the ADA was passed in 1990, when the Internet as we know it today did not exist, nor did streaming media.

Title III of the ADA however, provides for open and closed captioning as effective methods for delivering materials and services provided by “places of public accommodation.” But accessibility requirements aren’t just for movie theaters. It is important to note that since the passage of the ADA, important legislation involving the captioning of online media has come before the court which has implications for many online-only entities.

Download the brief: How the ADA Impacts Video Accessibility to get an in-depth understanding of how the ADA affects online video accessibility and captioning requirements.

The ADA, Auxiliary Aids, and Accommodation in Online Media

In 2010, a suit was brought against Netflix by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), alleging that Netflix was participating in discriminatory practices by excluding deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers from using the “Watch Instantly” streaming service. The complaint was Netflix, with 20 million subscribers, did not offer closed captions for much of their video content.

Netflix attempted to argue that, due to its role as a streaming video distributor, any legal action should pertain to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which, had its own set of captioning requirements with deadlines that had not passed. However, the court ruled that one law did not preclude the other. Netflix was not protected from ADA prosecution because of compliance with the CVAA.

The decision to move forward with a trial on the grounds that Netflix is a “place of public accommodation,” and therefore subject to ADA Title III, was groundbreaking. It was the first time the ADA had been interpreted to apply to an online-only business. In October of 2012, Netflix decided not to go to court and instead to settle with a legally binding consent decree: to caption 100% of their online videos by 2014.

It is the task of the American judicial system to interpret laws in a reasonable manner, particularly where necessitated by societal shifts. Though it was written in 1990, the history of the ADA makes it apparent that Congress intended the law to adjust according to changes in technology.