If you work in a government facility, in academia, or for a contractor supplying video to the government, your work must meet the accessibility standards described in regulations concerning Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. You may also need to meet these standards in work done for private clients, corporations, or non-profits, depending on the nature of the target audience. As one regulation states, "All training and informational video and multimedia productions which support the agency's mission, regardless of format, that contain speech or other audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be open or closed captioned." That's a big net that catches a lot of government and academic videos.
There are also requirements specific to captioning for broadcast material, but meeting those requirements doesn't typically fall under the job descriptions of corporate, institutional, or contract videographers. Nor do the rigors of live event captioning, which uses a different set of rules and obviously different transcription requirements. Here we'll look at closed captioning issues that impact video producers whose work is intended for streaming or DVD distribution; specifically, what to caption, and how closed captions differ from DVD subtitles.
Once you decide to caption, the next step is to set captioning standards to ensure consistency within and among your video productions. We'll also look at captioning workflow, starting with how to format your files for import into a captioning program. Using a remarkable program called MAGpie, we'll synchronize a set of sample captions to a video file and integrate the results with Windows Media for streaming applications
If you're producing both streaming videos and DVDs, you'll need to produce one text stream that works with both formats. So as a final step, I'll identify some tools and suggest a workflow for doing just that.
Closed captions serve a broader purpose than the subtitles you may have seen in (or produced for) foreign movies or DVDs. That's because most subtitles assume that the viewer can hear, but doesn't understand the language. For this reason, noises like gunshots, screams, music welling up, dogs barking, and cars beeping may not be noted in the subtitle text.
Closed captions assume that the viewer cannot hear. To comply with Section 508, closed captions must "contain speech or other audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content." If you're producing a DVD for government use, you'll need to add all the audio cues necessary to satisfy this requirement. In addition, note that captioning for broadcast and captioning for streaming video and DVD involve completely different techniques and technologies.
Unlike captioning for broadcast, which requires expensive hardware and software, captioning for streaming and DVD involves creating text files in inexpensive (or free) shareware programs and then linking the text file with the video file for streaming, or importing the text file into the DVD authoring program to create subtitles. While some broadcast captioning systems can export text strings for DVD and streaming, inexpensive programs will serve just as well.
Creating Your Captioning Standard There are few absolute rights and wrongs in captioning. The most important thing is to be consistent in how your captions are created and applied. So before creating your first closed captioned text, you should define the conventions you'll use to produce your closed captions. In formulating the standards outlined here, I relied heavily on the practices used by the Media Access Group at WGBH in Boston, the world's first captioning agency and creators of MAGpie [see sidebar, "Web Resources"]. They've been delivering accessible media to disabled adults and children for over 30 years. Certain sections of this article are paraphrased from materials from the Media Access Group, with their gracious permission.
Step 1: How Many Lines
The first decision you'll make in defining your captioning standard is how many lines of captions. Television captions tend to be three or four lines, while the majority of Hollywood DVD titles tend to use two lines.
Most streaming producers also use two lines. Some companies, like the Media Access Group, add a third line at the top of the caption to identify the speaker (Figure 1, above). Unless you have a strong reason to choose otherwise, two lines of text is probably a good place to start.