Accessible Video Players – Content & Container United

digital projector illuminated beam of light reveals dust and smoke in the air.
Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash

In the world of digital media accessibility, there is a balancing act between the capabilities of the container to support accessibility and how far you need to go (or can go) in terms of formatting and enhancing content for accessibility.

CONCEPT: Content can be formatted for accessibility only so far as the container provides the capability to support that formatting.

Video Players are a great demonstration of content capabilities for accessibility being determined by the container. You might be surprised to learn that not all video players can actually play captions.

TAKE AWAY: As a teacher, you (hopefully) already have a life in addition to a full-time load. The last thing you need is to spend time captioning a video only to find that the captions can’t be turned on when you embed the video in your LMS.

Containers of Accessibility Potential

Obviously, digital information comes in a lot of different forms. Text, images, audio, video, and tactile information can all be communicated through different digital technologies and file formats.

Not surprisingly, not all digital containers are capable of providing the same range of options and support for describing the content they are carrying.

Many file formats contain what is called “meta” information, which is information that refers to the file and the information it contains. Meta information is self-referencing information, and it can contain a variety of data including accessibility-related data.

Text Containers

colorful digital text comprising computer code fills the screen.
Photo by Max Chen on Unsplash

There are several file formats that can contain digital text. Some can only contain text, while others can contain a variety of digital information, including information about the text.

In the same way, support for accessibility is also varied across text file formats.

For example, much as Microsoft Word has a lot of features for editing text, it also provides a deep set of capabilities for accessibility in addressing these features.

Someone using a screenreader can tell you what font style, size, and color is being used in MS Word.

Notepad, on the other hand, has a minimal set of features, and correspondingly few capabilities for accessibility.

Image Containers

cellphone being held in a single hand, taking a picture.
Photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash

Image files do not typically hold extra information about the image beyond what is visually apparent.

There are some situations where extra information is stored in an image file, but it requires special knowledge and an image editing program that can access and display the information.

Most image files do not have easily editable meta information we can exploit for accessibility.

Audio Containers

headphones attached to a cellphone
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Some audio files provide extra information beyond the sonic data you can hear, but not all.

MP3 files contain extra information, and it can be used for accessibility.

The MP3 file format supports text information in a meta data field labeled “Lyrics”. You can put any kind of digital text in there, not just lyrics!

Of course, your audience has to be told they can find a transcript in the lyrics field, and they also have to have an MP3 player that can reveal the data from the Lyrics field.

Video Containers

remote control buttons
Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

Video files are often combinations of the different aspects of the final presentation we watch.

Video information can be presented directly through the browser when it is supported, but not all browsers support video playback without a video player application.

Some form of application is required in order to present the video information and provide the user with a PLAY/PAUSE button, a STOP button, Fast Forward, Rewind, etc.

A video player is often overlooked in terms of video accessibility, while Captioning gets the main attention.

However, providing captions is not enough.

For video to be accessible, it needs to be possible for the viewer to play the captions. If the player doesn’t have a button to turn on the captions, then the captions might as well not exist. In fact, as far as the viewer is concerned, they don’t.

In addition to the video player needing to be able to play the caption information, the video player needs to have controls that are keyboard accessible.

This disqualifies many of the web-based video players, but not all of them.

Accessible Video Players

Happily, the video players used by YouTube and Vimeo are accessible. When you add captions top the videos you load or use from these sites, the video will be presented through accessible players when viewed at or

If you are embedding the video payer into your LMS, always check to make sure the video player can be controlled via the keyboard.


Able Player Fully accessible cross-browser HTML5 media player.
Able Player Fully accessible cross-browser HTML5 media player.

If you find that your LMS is using an inaccessible video player, you can use the AblePlayer for free.

AblePlayer provides full support for captioning as well as timed text transcripts, so your students can click on the transcript and be taken directly to that point of the video.

This capability is a great study aid, allowing students to quickly search and view the parts of your instructional video they need to study.

Here is an example of the AblePlayer in use.

Now you can ensure that your students are actually able to use the access strategy you provide when you caption your instructional videos.

Thanks for reading!

Captioning and Community –

amara logo

There are many tools related to captioning digital media, and Amara is an amazing example of captioning technology that inspires and supports a passionate community of inclusive media enthusiasts.

What is Amara?

Amara is both a captioning tool and a captioning service, and before we go any further, let me just say I am not getting paid or compensated in any way for this post.

Amara enables you to caption web-based video, which makes Amara the solution when you are wanting to use someone else’s uncaptioned video in your class. With Amara, you can caption web-based video for the good of the entire Internet community.

Speaking of community, if you’re lucky, that community might help you caption the videos you want to use – for free!

Amara as a Captioning Tool is the website where you can create captions/subtitles for web-based video, for free. Using their award-winning captioning tools, you can caption the video completely within your browser. No installation required.

When you are finished, your captioning work will become part of the ever-growing library of captioned media hosted by

You’re literally making the Internet more accessible when you do this.

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that pays for Amara’s premium tools, then you get the benefit of collaboration tools and enhanced support as well. I hear it’s pretty nice…

Amara as Captioning Service

Of course, my first rule for captioning is “If you can pay someone else to do it, then pay someone else to do it!” – Amara is also happy to help you with your captioning needs, for a fee.

Captioned Video Repository

Amara has been used by a lot of people to caption a lot of videos, meaning there are a lot of captioned videos available through

It is worth searching on some keywords related to your subject matter to see if some other educator might have captioned an excellent instructional video that might benefit your students – and save you some time in the process!

Volunteering – Captioning as a Public Service

Do you believe in community service? Captioning videos through Amara certainly counts as a community service, albeit for our global community of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

At Amara, the community works on videos that need to be captioned for other people too. If you need videos captioned for your class, and you are willing to wait for the volunteers to get to your request, then you can add the video to a list of videos that volunteers will caption – eventually.

A huge number of educators make use of, so you will also be supporting your own community of educators when you use, whether you do the captioning or you ask volunteers to do it for you.

Extra Credit, Anyone?

Do you have the kind of class where you can award extra credit for public service? is a great vehicle for tapping into students’ desire to help others and improve their own grade at the same time.

Even if you don’t have enough videos to keep your students busy, they can volunteer to caption other people’s videos through

Award-Winning Technology provides some of the most intuitive and easy to use captioning tools available. You will see why they have won so many awards around the world for their design and capability.

Using only three keystrokes, you can caption your web-based video with no hassle.

Amara Workflow

Before we begin, remember that your video must be live and available on the Internet to use to caption it.

To begin the process, click on the “Amara Public Workspace” tab at the top of the screen, and click the “Add Video” button when it appears.

Amara start screed with Add Videos button highlighted.
Click Add videos button to begin…

You will be prompted to enter the video URL, and specify the language of the video.

You will also need to specify your own language for your user profile within Amara. Amara allows you to specify 6 languages of proficiency, if you are so talented.

With your profile language(s) specified, you will be able to click the “Add/Edit Subtitles” button.

add/edit subtitles button
Click the Add/Edit subtitles button to begin the captioning workflow.

There are three basic steps to captioning a video with Amara:

  1. Transcribe the dialogue and auditory information.
  2. Synchronize the presentation of the captions with the sonic presentation.
  3. Review the final product.
The Amara workflow of three steps: 1. Type what you hear, 2. Sync timing, 3. Review and complete.
The Amara captioning workflow is really that easy.

That’s it!

Amara will make sure you have all the help and support you need along the way.

Amara support overlay explaining the interface for a first-time user.
Amara support overlay explaining the interface for a first-time user.

Work through the video, using TAB to play/stop the video, and the UP and DOWN arrows to indicate the Start and Stop times for each line of captioning.

The final step of the workflow: review your captions and timing.
The final step.

When you finish the captioning process, will include the captioned video as part of the public repository, and you can link to it or embed it in a page within your LMS.

Mission accomplished, the successful completion notification from Amara.
Mission complete!

For Longer Jobs

If you are working on a long video, or if you get interrupted, there is a “Save Draft” button that will maintain your progress for when you are able to login again and resume your editing.

Video with incomplete subtitles.
This video has incomplete subtitles.

You can come back at any time and finish your video captioning.

Now you know about the world’s largest community of caption/subtitle enthusiasts, and another option for dealing with inaccessible videos you find on the Internet.

I hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

Viewing Your Captioned Videos

Woman sits in front of a television with nothing but static showing on the screen.
Photo by Ali Pazani on Unsplash

If you just jumped in, we’ve been covering a workflow for captioning digital video.

We’ve talked about the formatting and stylistic concerns for caption files, as well as transcribing and assigning time codes for each line of captioning in a caption file.

Today I will tell you about a solution for viewing the captions and the video together in a single file.


The technology behind our solution is called Softsubbing. Like Closed Captions, Softsubs provide a way to turn the subtitles (captions) on or off.

The only problem is that there are many different video players out there, and they don’t all support softsubs.

Fortunately, this isn’t much of a problem, because we can refer students to a free video player that supports softsubs on Windows and Android operating systems. Any students using Mac or iOs devices can use the Quicktime player to watch the softsubs.

A Simple Solution for Students

With the following workflow, you will be able to add your caption file to your video file.

This means that instead of having your student sort and match the appropriate two files into their video player, you can just send them the video file and the captions are automatically packed inside.


Cocktail with fruit and umbrella garnish next to a pineapple.
The Handbrake Logo

Handbrake is a free program (with a tasty looking logo) for converting video from a wide range of formats to modern widely supported formats. It also happens to be an excellent and easy to use tool for adding captions and subtitles to videos as softsubs. You can learn more at the Handbrake website (

Handbrake is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

You can download Handbrake from:

Handbrake Workflow

Handbrake is very easy to use, with just a few steps you will have a self-contained captioned video file.

Load the Video

The loading screen of Handbrake has two options for getting a video loaded, browse, or drag and drop.
The starting screen for Handbrake.

To begin, select the video you want to add captions to.

You can either browse to a file on your local machine (option 1), or you can drag and drop a video file into the designated area (option 2).

Select a Preset

With the video selected, choose a Preset from the Preset Panel.

Handbrake Preset Panel.
Handbrake Preset Panel.

You will see there are many presets available. Fast 1080 p30 is the recommended Preset setting for most videos.

Saving the Finished Video

Handbrake application window with the Save As feature highlighted.
Select your final destination for the completed video at the bottom of the Handbrake window.

Now that the video is loaded and the preset is selected, specify a destination on your hard drive for the finished video.

Add the Captions/Subtitles

Click on the Subtitles tab to reveal the subtitle settings to configure the settings for your captions.

Handbrake application with the Subtitles tab activated.
Subtitles tab in Handbrake.

Handbrake is often used to process multiple subtitle tracks per video, and as part of an automated workflow. Because of this, it starts with a default subtitle track. We don’t need the default subtitle track, so you can go ahead and delete it.

Delete option for subtitle track.
Delete the subtitle track with the little gray X at the right end of the track.

Click the “Import Subtitle” to select your caption file.

Import Subtitles button highlighted in Handbrake Application.
Import Subtitle button.

Verify your language and character coding are correct.

If you need to make hardsubs (or Open Captions), click the BURN IN option for Open Captions that are always on.

For Softsubs (or Closed Captions) leave the BURN IN option UNCHECKED. Your video will have Softsubs (Closed Captions) that the student can turn on or off.

Encode the Video

With the subtitle settings configured, you are ready to finish the video.

Click “Start Encode” and Handbrake begins processing your video.

Start Encode button.
Start Encode button.

Processing speed will vary based on the strength of your computer and the length of your video.

Watching the Softsubs

VLC media player logo: Orange traffic cone. VLC is a powerful media player playing most of the media codecs and video formats out there.
VLC media player, free and open source.

The VLC player is a free video player your students can use to watch your finished captions when the video is finished.

The VLC Player is cross-platform, free, and open source. You can learn more and download a copy of the VLC Player at:

Now you have a complete solution for creating and distributing your own captioned video, using free and open source solutions, including a free and open source video player for students that supports a wide range of formats and media, such as DVD’s, audio CD’s, VCD’s, and various streaming protocols.

That completes our workflow, thanks for reading!

Aegisub Advanced Subtitle Editor

Aegisub logo
Visit to download the application.

Aegisub Advanced Subtitle Editor is an open source tool for editing and creating digital subtitle/caption files. Providing support for editing, styling, and positioning subtitles, Aegisub supports many different subtitle file formats.

Aegisub provides an interesting way to assign the start and stop times of subtitles, with an audio waveform display that makes it easy to visually find the points in the timeline where sonic information is happening. This allows you to click in directly where the audio is happening instead of listening in real time.

There are Aegisub versions for both Windows and MacOS, with different versions written in 27 different languages.

Aegisub can produce subtitles in most languages in use today, across a range of character encoding that enables Asian and Cyrillic fonts as well as traditional western fonts.

In addition to being used by professional media production companies, Aegisub also has a huge user base in the fansubbing community, where it is used to create unofficial subtitles for videos.

Aegisub also features styles for creating karaoke videos.

Getting Aegisub

Aegisub startup window.
Aegisub startup window.

You can download Aegisub at

It is recommended to use the 32 bit version, as the 64-bit version is slower and does not provide the same range of supported technologies as the 32 bit version.

Using Aegisub to Create Captions

Aegisub is a powerful tool that allows for advanced workflows that include automation and sophisticated styling.

Fortunately, it is also easy enough to use that hobbyists and educators alike can use it for simple subtitling.

Start Aegis

After you’ve downloaded and installed Aegisub, start the Aegisub application.

The Aegisub application will open.

Aegisub application window immediately after opening.
Aegisub Application.

Open Subtitles

To begin, we will open your subtitle file.

Go to the File menu and select “Open Subtitles”You can also use Aegisub to transcribe your video, if you prefer (choose “New Subtitles” if you are going to transcribe your video in Aegisub.

Aegisub will open subtitles in the following formats:

  • .txt
  • .srt
  • .sub
  • .mkv
  • .mka
  • .mks
  • .ass
  • .ssa

Choose your Text import options, and click OK.

text import options, select and Actor separator, Comment starter, or include blank lines.
Leave unchanged and click OK for simple productions.

Your subtitles will be loaded into the text grid.

Aegisub text grid.
Aegisub text grid.

Open Video/Audio

Go to the Video or Audio window and choose the option you prefer for determining the timing for each line of captions.

In either case you will notice the wave form editor will display the audio information on a timeline.

Aegisub with subtitles and video file loaded.
Aegisub with subtitles and video file loaded.

Audio Display

Go to the Audio menu and select “Waveform display” if it is not already selected. This makes the audio information more distinct and easy to identify the start and stop points.

Aegisub audio display.
Aegisub audio display.

There are fader controls at the right of the audio display to control the horizontal and vertical zoom of the audio display.

Adjust the display so you can easily see when audio is beginning and ending.

Font Styling

Within the Line Editor window, you can format the font face and size, as well as the colors for outline, fill, and shadow (if you’re making karaoke, you can also format the karaoke timing colors).

Aegisub line editor.
Aegisub line editor.

It is recommended you do not use smaller than 20 pt fonts. Depending on the format of your video, you may want to use larger font sizes.

For best results, it is recommended you test the playback of your subtitles and be sure you are able to easily read them.

From within the Line Editing window, you can also format subtitles from multiple speakers, as well as create comments.

Edit Text to Size

Edit your text to make sure none of the lines are excessively long.

Aegisub provides a wide range of keyboard commands for editing text, splitting, and adding lines.

Aegisub will highlight in pink the field next to the Effect pull-down menu when a line of captions has too many characters.

Associate Timing

You need to assign a presentation time for each line of subtitles that defines a starting and ending time.

In the text grid, select the line of subtitles you want to assign a start and stop time for.

In the audio window, left-click where the subtitle begins, and right-click where the subtitle ends.

Editing subtitle presentation timing with the audio display.
Editing subtitle presentation timing with the audio display.

Aegisub will place a red line at the starting point in the audio window, and a blue line at the end time.

Press “R” to play the currently selected range of audio to make sure you are capturing the correct portion of the audio waveform.

When you are satisfied with the timing, press ENTER and Aegisub will commit the time values and move to the next line in the text grid.

Proceed through the audio/video and text grid until each line of subtitles has a presentation time assigned.

Save or Export

When you have finished formatting and timing the subtitles, you can use Aegisub to preview your work and make sure the subtitles are properly synchronized with the spoken audio.

When you are satisfied, you can save the subtitles as an Advanced Alpha Substation (.ass) file, or else you can choose the Export option from the File menu to generate an .stl, .sub, .ssa, .ttxt, .txt, encore .txt, and .translation.txt.

Additional Resources

Aegisub is supported by an in-depth online manual that includes tutorials for getting started and delving into the advanced uses if you choose to go there.

Access the user manual for the latest version (3.2) at:

Find out more at the Aegisub project website:

Now you can create and edit captions and subtitles for your instructional videos (and karaoke) with Aegisub for free.

Thanks for reading!

Captioning with YouTube

YouTube home page.
YouTube Home Page

As the largest video repository on Earth, it is somewhat surprising for videos to NOT show up on YouTube. It is a pretty safe bet that everyone knows about YouTube, and in fact, you probably already have an account.

However, if you’ve never uploaded a video to YouTube, you might be surprised at the tools available for enhancing your videos. Among these tools is a robust set of captioning tools.


Many people have encountered the auto-captions from YouTube.

A nifty novelty for most, a comic example of how AI and speech recognition can go wrong much of the time, the auto-captions of YouTube are certainly not a reliable solution for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing. The accuracy of the captions is too often too far off the mark to trust as sufficient means for a student who is deaf to understand what is being communicated.

However, YouTube makes it possible to edit the auto-captions it creates. Using the YouTube Subtitle tools, you can correct mis-recognized words, add punctuation and capitalization, and adjust timing and presentation for the captions.

YouTube Workflow for Captioning

YouTube provides a variety of options for adding captions to your videos:

  • You can upload a caption file if you have one.
  • You can manually transcribe and then auto-sync captions for your video.
  • You can wait for YouTube to process your video and generate auto-captions.

Once you have caption files within YouTube, you can also download the caption file and edit or use it with your local video or captioning software.

YouTube Studio

YouTube provides a set of tools for managing and editing the videos you upload to the YouTube service. It is called the “YouTube Studio”

Upload Video

The first step in captioning a video on YouTube is to upload a video.

You can find the upload option in the upper right-hand corner of the screen:

YouTube Video Upload menu.
Uploading video to YouTube.
  1. Click on the camera icon with a white “plus” sign in the middle.
  2. When the menu opens, select the option “Upload Video”.

Captioning Tools – Subtitles

When you have a video loaded into YouTube, you can select it from the “Videos” section of the YouTube Studio.

With the video selected, choose the “Subtitles” option from the left-hand menu.

Subtitles option highlighted from YouTube Studio menu.
Subtitles option from YouTube Studio menu.

The Subtitles screen will open, allowing you to manage the subtitles for your video.

If your video has been uploaded for at least an hour, it will likely have auto-captions generated, though the time required for generating auto-captions depends on the length and complexity of spoken dialog in your video, and how finicky the AI is behaving that day.

If you click the “Add” button, you will be presented with a menu of three choices for how you can add a subtitle track: “Upload a file”, “Transcribe and auto-sync”, and “Create new subtitles or CC”.

Subtitle methods from YouTube add new subtitle option.
Subtitling methods available in YouTube.

Click on the menu for a subtitle to get a menu of options for editing that subtitle.

Subtitle options for editing.
Individual subtitle editing options.

Clicking “Edit on Classic Studio” will open your video in caption editing mode, allowing you to adjust the captions and the timing of their presentation on screen.

YouTube classic caption editor
Classic Editor in YouTube.

Formatting Captions

There are a variety of considerations to keep in mind when formatting your captions. Refer to the Captioning Key for the complete set of formatting rules. Here are just a few you should know about and adopt into your workflow:

Fonts, Line Length, Presentation Rate, and Line Breaks

Traditional captions are formatted as white, mixed case fonts at approximately 32 characters per line.

Display each line of captions for at least 1.5 seconds, but no longer than 6 seconds.

Never break a line of captions between a modifier and the word it modifies, in a prepositional phrase, after a conjunction, or separating an auxiliary verb from the word it modifies.

Viewing Captions

With YouTube and any other video player, the ability to playback the captions you create is an important consideration.

YouTube CC and Gear icons.
CC and Gear icons from YouTube Player.

YouTube provides great support for captions. You can turn the captions on or off by clicking on the CC at the bottom of the Video Player. You can configure the captions and choose from different caption tracks (if available), by clicking on the gear icon next to the CC in the YouTube video player.

Downloading Captions

You can also download the caption files from YouTube as .vtt, .srt, or.sbv files to use with your local video player and/or editor.

This allows you to utilize the auto-caption function of YouTube to generate the beginnings of a text transcript/caption file. This can be a useful option when you need to distribute a video within your LMS.

YouTube Supports Captioning

Now you know YouTube offers a great captioning tool, especially at the price.

You can use the YouTube captioning tools to add or clean up the captions for your videos hosted on YouTube, or as an element of your workflow for generating captions for use in your school’s LMS.

Thanks for reading!

Captioning Styles and Files

Young man and woman editing film with razor blades and tape.
Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

Captioning digital video is a straight-forward, if slightly focused process:

  1. Transcribe the dialog and relevant sound effects, music, and any other significant audio information,
  2. Format the captions into individual lines of captions that will fit onto the screen in a readable format,
  3. Apply specific formatting to the captions to reflect specific information and distinguish between dialog and other sonic information,
  4. Determine the timing for presentation of each line of captions,
  5. Adjust the positioning of each line of captions,
  6. Saving the caption file,
  7. Associating the caption file with the digital video file for playback.

Captioning takes time, just because of the nature of the activities involved. Once you have completed the above steps, you will most likely have watched the video at least three or four times. There is a lot of focused viewing and reviewing of the digital media as you create and edit the digital captions.

Fortunately, there are freely available resources to help explain and accomplish the task of captioning your instructional video, provided by the fine folks at the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) Keys to Access

The DCMP is funded by the US Department of Education and administered by the National Association of the Deaf. The DCMP provides various services to assist students who are blind or visually impaired, and/or deaf or hard of hearing.

The DCMP is the authoritative source for all things related to captioning and describing media. The DCMP hosts a robust Learning Center that covers everything from explanations of how to caption and describe digital media, the laws and regulations surrounding captions and accessibility, as well as coverage of assistive technologies used by individuals with disabilities.

Two resources that are especially useful for captioning are the “Caption Key”( and the “Description Key” (

Captioned and Described Video Relief for COVID-19

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the DCMP is providing free memberships to teachers or families who have at least one student with a disability. This means free access to over 8,000 captioned and described high-quality instructional resources. More information about the program and resources can be obtained at the DCMP website (

Even if you don’t have a membership, the DCMP also provides many accessible videos that can be viewed by anyone.

Captioning Key: Basic Captioning Conventions for Instructional Video

The Captioning Key provides the style and formatting guidelines for captioning instructional videos.

The Captioning Key is a robust resource that covers the range of questions and concerns about captioning, including how to deal with language mechanics, presentation rate, identifying multiple speakers, sound effects and music, as well as resources for dealing with YouTube, captioning vendors, and different tools for creating your own captions.

The Captioning Key is free to use, and download. The DCMP also provides a printable version, for those of us who prefer a physical user manual.

The Description Key: Basic Guidelines and Resources for Describing Media

Just as the Captioning Key provides guidelines and information for captioning digital media, so too does the Description Key provide guidelines and information for describing digital media for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Describing media is a challenging task, requiring technical skills, recording and editing software and hardware, as well as a talent for voice acting and narration.

Happily, many faculty possess the equipment and software to record and edit narrative descriptions. Now with the Description Key, answers about what and how to describe are answered, as well as basic workflows, recommendations for technology, software, and equipment as well as best practices for getting a good quality recording.

Applying the Captioning Key and Description Key

In the coming days I will cover some captioning workflows and demonstrate some of the resources and guidance from the Captioning Key.

You will be able to provide completely accessible captioned and described media for your online courses, and increase the engagement and instructional capability of your online course.

Thanks for reading!

Video Accessibility

Instructional Capabilities of Video

As a digital medium, video combines the power of visual and auditory information in a way that can provide a deeply engaging and provocative experience for the viewer.

Video can be especially powerful as an instructional material as the synchronicity of auditory and visual information creates a stronger cognitive impact for the viewer, resulting in an ease and immediacy of understanding for many viewers.

The ability to structure layers of information lends itself to portraying complex information that can be comprehended in a more time-efficient way. Adding the elements of dramatic context and storytelling allows for the communication of attitude and emotions in a particularly powerful way.

The point for instructional video accessibility is to determine if any of these information channels carry significant instructional content.

In other words, “Will this be on the test?”

If so, it needs to be communicated explicitly across the auditory and visual channels.

Video is Complex

As a medium, digital video covers a lot of categories of communication. Most obviously, video can provide a visual demonstration of procedures, as well as principles and concepts spelled out in text and illustrated in motion. Audio information can supplement and reinforce the visual information, as well as provide additional information beyond what is being displayed. The subtle integration of visual information in background elements and scenery can also reinforce and supplement information while post-production graphic overlays, closed captioning, and narrative description also provide additional channels for communication.

Basic Production Concerns

The quality of video and audio production is an accessibility concern. Audible and visual static, noise, insufficient volume, or weak lighting can all exacerbate problems of perception for people with visual or auditory disabilities.

Access Strategies

The access strategies for video are easy to state, but can be rather varied in their application.

In a nutshell, to make a video accessible requires captions and narrative descriptions. Essentially, the spectrum of information for the visual sense is portrayed through audio narrative description and the spectrum of information for the auditory sense is portrayed through captions.

Caption Complications

Not all digital video formats are capable of supporting caption files, sometimes the captions need to be included as separate files that the video player combines in the final playback.

Closed vs Open Captions

Most people are aware of Closed Captions, but have you ever heard of Open Captions?

Open Captions are a thing. The difference between Open Captions and Closed Captions is that Closed Captions can be turned on or off, while Open Captions are always visible on the screen.

There is such variety in video playback options that some people use Open Captions to avoid any problem with a student not being able to turn captions on if they need them.

As technology continues to improve, using Closed Captions is the preferred solution. If possible, ensure your institution utilizes an accessible video player within your LMS so your students have an accessible option that supports closed captions.

Emerging Narrative Descriptions

Like captions, narrative description is not always supported with the native video file. It is a relatively new advent for most people as a form of accommodation, and is still relatively uncommon for a lot of small production studios.

In many cases, adding narrative descriptions to older videos can be extra problematic in terms of technology and in finding time to squeeze in the descriptions between the spoken dialog.

Like so many accessibility practices, narrative description is more easily handled when it is included in the video planning and production instead of being added as a post-production element.

Text Transcript

While the optimum access strategies for video are captions and narrative descriptions, the value of a text transcript can not be overstated. While a text transcript is not an acceptable substitute for captions, it can be very useful when studying material.

Captions vs. Subtitles

Traditionally there have been different technologies used for displaying captions and subtitles. The digital video revolution also added some variety and chaos to the industry.

There is also a technical distinction between subtitles and captions that makes a significant difference in the effectiveness of the two as an accommodation.

Captions portray all the dialog as well as sound effects, and they are always in the same language as the spoken dialog.

Subtitles only portray the spoken dialog, and they are usually in a foreign language.

This distinction was not always known or respected by the producers of DVD’s and Video, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Sometimes you will find “Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing” which are effectively captions.

Playback Support

There is still an issue for accessible video after the creation of captions and narrative descriptions, in the need for an accessible video player.

Not all video players support captioning or narrative description, making it impossible to turn the captions or description on.

In addition to limited support for captions and narrative descriptions, many video players are not keyboard accessible either.

Happily, there are a growing number of options for playing back accessible video with captions and narrative descriptions.

Two of my favorite options for playing accessible video:

Able Player – completely accessible and free HTML5 player.

Oz Player – completely accessible HTML5 video player.

Getting Accessible Video

Not surprisingly, it is possible to pay a vendor to provide captions and narrative descriptions for your instructional videos. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.

The time and effort that goes into creating captions and narrative descriptions can be surprisingly intensive. However, if you have the desire and the time, there are free tools available to do it yourself.

YouTube and Vimeo

When using other people’s video from the Internet, the same rules apply, plus copyright law. Using videos from YouTube and Vimeo still need to have captions and narrative descriptions. The auto-captions of YouTube are not done to a level of acceptable quality for a legal accommodation, but they can be edited and improved on.

I’ll be covering YouTube captioning and additional workflows for creating your own captions over the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading!

Accessible Document Conversions – SensusAccess

First, a disclaimer: upon reading/editing this piece, I was a little bothered by how much it seemed like an advertisement for SensusAccess. I am not being paid or compensated in any way for the following post, I just honestly like what the technology does. It is also important to recognize that SensusAccess is not a miracle working technology, and it does not automagically add accessibility to a digital document. You still have to do some work.

Mural on a wall reads in two languages: Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.
Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

One of the best parts about formatting your digital content for accessibility is the ability to convert the content into alternate formats with the click of a button.

The work you invest in making a document accessible can yield ongoing benefits that are not always obvious at the onset.

In this way, little acts of deliberate behavior change can build the daily habits that sustain a long-term accessibility and usability benefit.

One of my favorite examples of this capability in action is in the technology and service provided by SensusAccess (


SensusAccess is an automated technology for converting digital information into alternate formats. Educators and students can try SensusAccess for free at

With SensusAccess, you can take a wide variety of documents and convert them into tagged PDF’s, Ebooks, Audio files, and more.

Sensus is a company in Denmark, and they are continuing the work and growth of inclusive technology for the benefit of all humans.

The engine of SensusAccess is RoboBraille, an automated Braille and digital format conversion technology that has been in operation since 2004. RoboBraille is available for strictly individual, non-commercial use, and supports an amazing number of different languages.

Logo: in print and Braille, individual characters colored red, blue, green, and yellow. provides free Braille conversion for education.

Today the technology has grown to support a wide range of digital information formats, and the fine folks at Sensus work with educational institutions around the world to improve accessibility of (and to) education.

You should check with your campus technology department to see if your school already has an arrangement with Sensus. Enhanced capabilities and options can be configured to meet your institution’s technology and service needs, including a variety of integrations that make accessibility happen by enhancing your workflow for greater automation.

Sensus is also continually working to increase the human languages they support, increasing the range of human to computer interaction capability of modern technology.

Perhaps best of all, even if your school is not currently working with Sensus, you can still use the basic technology for free.

Formatting for Accessibility in Action

With SensusAccess, you can see the power of accessibility formatting in the action of creating better quality alternate formats.

With amazing ease, you can yield the benefits of your accessibility formatting by generating a range of documents with enhanced accessibility support.

looking over the shoulder of someone reading on a Kindle device.
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Even if you have the opposite of a formatted document, there is some help available.

A raw, unformatted document can be processed to glean whatever information might be available, and to create a minimalist structure for alternate formats.

Of course, you can see an obvious difference when you have edited/created the document with heading styles, described your images, formatted your tables with header cells, and identified your lists with proper list styles. The resulting documents from SensusAccess provide much better accessibility and usability than the raw unformatted document.

How to Use SensusAccess

There are several ways SensusAccess can be useful to an educational institution.

  • For faculty: creating more accessible and more effective instructional materials.
  • For students – create on-the-fly conversions of inaccessible materials into more usable materials for academic use.
  • For Disability Support staff – SensusAccess can be useful in a variety of contexts, depending on your digital toolkit and specific student needs you are responding to.

An obvious relevant context of 2020 is helping to avoid the limitations of campus-based licensing for your alternate media production system.

SensusAccess can be used to provide Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of documents. OCR is a critical step in getting from a raw scan to a usable digital document.

SensusAccess can help fill workflow gaps with basic capabilities that allow you to get a document conversion process completed, so the students with disabilities are not left without access to instructional materials.

Simple File Conversion

All it takes are four simple steps to convert your document to a wide range of alternate formats.

Here is how to convert your document:

  1. Go to the SensusAccess Document Converting URL (
  2. Select the option for your source document. You can either upload a file, enter an URL, or directly type in text.
  3. Depending on the type of file you upload, you will be presented with a different workflow.
  4. Follow the prompts until the process is complete.

You will receive an email with a result notification and a link to download the converted file. Some files are sent to your email inbox as well.

Four Simple Steps

Step 1:

Screen capture of SensusAccess input form with Step 1, "Upload your document" of the conversion process.
Choose between uploading a file, entering an URL, or typing in text.


Screen capture of SensusAccess input form with Step 2 "Select output format" of the conversion process.
Uploading an MS Word file provides the most options for output formats.

Step 3:

Screen capture of SensusAccess input form with Step 3 "Specify e-book options" of the conversion process.
Specify the details for your target format, in this case an e-book.

Step 4:

Screen capture of SensusAccess input form with Step 4 "Enter email address and submit request" of the conversion process.
You will get an email with a link to the finished file. For some formats, you will also receive the finished file as an attachment.

Some documents provide more options than others in terms of the variety of alternate formats they can generate. MS Word provides the most options for conversions, but ironically, it is not always the most accessible format for an individual’s specific needs.

MS Word has the most capability for defining digital information in a way that can be packaged and interpreted across different digital formats. But it might not be the best file format for a specific user’s technology needs.

This is when SensusAccess provides a great example of different digital containers and their capabilities to communicate a message across different digital technologies.

Now you can easily deliver your accessible documents to your student, and they can get it in the format that works best for their needs.

Thanks for reading!

MS Word to PDF via Acrobat Toolbar for MS Word

MS Word is a great authoring program, but sometimes you want the flexibility or security of a PDF document.

Here’s how you can author in MS Word and ensure that your accessibility formatting isn’t lost when you convert your MS Word document into a PDF document.

Accessibility Strategies

There is no magic accessibility technology that can replace your genius with formatting for accessibility. Be sure you have applied the appropriate access strategies to your digital content within MS Word before you set out to convert your document to PDF.

Acrobat Toolbar

When you buy qualifying versions of Acrobat, you will get an extension for MS Word that adds an Acrobat toolbar to the MS Word menus.

Acrobat toolbar for MS Word.
Acrobat toolbar for MS Word.

From the Acrobat toolbar, select the “Preferences” button so we can configure the output settings to preserve the accessibility formatting you’ve applied to your document.

Acrobat toolbar with Preferences option highlighted.
Acrobat toolbar Preferences


The first tab within the Acrobat Preferences is the “Settings” tab.

Acrobat Preferences Settings
Check Enable Accessibility and Reflow, as well as Enable advanced tagging.

From the Settings tab, make sure you have checked the option for advanced tagging and reflow.


The second tab within the Acrobat Preferences is the “Security” tab.

Acrobat Preferences Security tab
Security tab from Acrobat Preferences.

The security tab allows you to lock down the PDF document and allows you to require a password to open the PDF.

By default, access for assistive technologies like screen readers is turned on. If you enable password protection, be sure to leave the option checked.


The third tab in the Acrobat Preferences is the “Word” tab.

Acrobat Preferences word tab.
Word tab from Acrobat Preferences.

The Word tab allows you to specify whether or not your comments, footnote, and endnote links will be converted into PDF bookmarks.


The final tab in the Acrobat Preferences is the “Bookmarks” tab.

Acrobat Toolbar Preferences Bookmarks tab.
Check the option in the “Bookmark” column next to a style you want to add as a bookmark in your PDF.

With the Bookmarks tab you can configure which styles are converted to bookmarks in your PDF.

The Heading styles are automatically selected to be headings. You can add any other style to be converted to a bookmark by checking the option next to the style name under the Bookmark column.

Create PDF

With the Acrobat Preferences set as indicated above, your MS Word document will be converted to a PDF with all of the accessibility formatting in place.

Simply click the “Create PDF” button from the Acrobat toolbar and your settings will be used to create a PDF from your word document.

Acrobat Toolbar
Once you set your preferences, simply click “Create PDF” to convert your accessible Word Document to an accessible PDF.

You should always test the PDF with the Acrobat Accessibility Checker to make sure there were no glitches in the conversion from MS Word to PDF.

Now you can create accessible content in MS Word and confidently distribute it to your students as an accessible Word document or as an accessible PDF document.

Thanks for reading!

Cleaning Up Other People’s PDF Accessibility

Let’s face it – sooner or later you are going to find yourself wanting to use a PDF in your online course that someone else created. You might already have one that you are getting ready to send out to your students right now.

No judging, I’m just saying I understand how common other peoples’ PDF’s tend to be.

More often than not, these PDF’s can be found alone, without the source document they were created from.

Wherever you may be finding these PDF’s without source documents, they likely have one thing in common: accessibility problems. Happily, there is something you can do to enhance the accessibility within Acrobat Pro.

Remember the “Make Accessible” Action Wizard from Day 1 of PDF Accessibility?

Well, now you do!

Engage the Action Wizard tool and select “Make Accessible”. Acrobat Pro doesn’t care that you didn’t author the PDF. Acrobat Pro won’t even ask if you have copyright clearance.

Once the “Make Accessible” action wizard has finished tagging and guessing what kind of content is in the PDF, you can now go through and correct any mistakes in content identification. You will perform this task with the Reading Order tool.

Introducing the Reading Order Tool

Reading Order tool from Acrobat Pro
The Reading Order tool.

The Reading Order tool in Acrobat Pro can be found in the Accessibility Tools panel.

The Reading Order Panel [A] found in the Navigation Pane, should not be confused with the Reading Order tool [B], launched from the Accessibility Tools.

Acrobat Pro Reading Order Panel and reading Order tool.
Remember the difference, it can be confusing at first.

The Reading Order tool can be used to identify different types of content, examine the reading order, and eliminating irrelevant data from the reading order.

NOTE: For best results, set your view to display one full page at a time.

Activate the Reading Order Tool

From the Accessibility Tools, click on “Reading Order”.

Reading Order tool button
Reading Order Button

The Reading Order tool will appear as a floating panel.

Acrobat Pro Reading Order tool
Acrobat Pro Reading Order tool.

Position the Reading Order tool so you can see your page content as well as the Reading Order tool.

Acrobat Pro with Reading Order tool engaged.
Reading Order tool engaged.

Notice the content is contained in boxes, and that these boxes are displaying either numbers (the reading order) or letters (content types) in the upper left hand corners.

You can switch between displaying reading order or content types in the bottom part of the Reading Order tool, by selecting the appropriate choice under “Show page content groups”.

Reading Order tool with Show page content groups area highlighted.
Switch between displaying content order or structure types.

Clean Up Your PDF

With the Reading Order tool activated, we are ready to begin identifying the content we want to keep and getting rid of the content we don’t want in the way.

In the following example, we have some empty paragraphs cluttering up the bottom of the page. We don’t want our students to waste time identifying and examining empty paragraphs, so we will use the Reading Order tool to identify the empty paragraphs as “Background/Artifact”.

miscellaneous empty paragraphs to be cleaned up.
Empty paragraphs should be assigned to Background/Artifact with the Reading Order tool.

Identifying content as Background/Artifact removes it from the reading order, so users won’t be bothered with it.

Identify Content Types

Sometimes Acrobat will mistakenly assign content with the wrong label, for instance, identifying text as a paragraph when it should have been identified as a Heading.

With the Reading Order tool, you can fix that.

Select the content chunk you want to re-assign by clicking the little while label in the upper left corner of the content chunk. You will notice that your cursor changes into a little hand when you place it over the label.

Selecting content with Reading Order tool engaged.
The white hand means you are clicking on the right spot.

With the content chunk selected, click on the appropriate content type from the Reading Order tool.

Content types highlighted on Reading Order tool.
With your content chunk selected, assign a content type from the Reading Order tool.

Notice the label change on your content chunk to reflect the new content assignment.

Edit Alternate Text

Another accessibility enhancement you can perform with the Reading Order tool is adding or correcting alternate text descriptions for images.

With the Reading Order tool activated, select an image (figure) in your PDF.

With the image selected, right-click on the content type label and select the “Edit Alt Text” option.

Edit Alternate Text option from right-click menu of an image.
Right-click the image to reveal the Edit Alternate Text… option.

Enter the alternate text description that is appropriate for the image, or else click the “Don’t Add Alt-Text” button to mark the image as decorative only.

Acrobat Pro Edit Alternate Text window.
The Alternate Text editing window in Acrobat Pro.

Work your way through each page of the PDF until all of the content is properly identified.

Check Reading Order

After you make changes to the content structure of a page by reassigning or removing content, you should check the reading order to make sure everything is flowing properly.

You can get a quick view of the reading order by switching the Reading Order tool from displaying “Structure Types” to “Page content order”.

Reading Order tool with structure type and content order options highlighted.
Choose Page content order or Structure types.

If the reading order needs to be adjusted, click the “Show Order Panel” button to open the Order Panel within the Navigation Pane on the left-hand side of the Acrobat Pro window. With the Order Panel open, you can drag the content into the correct sequence.

Run Accessibility Checker

It is always a good idea to run the Accessibility Checker after you finish editing your PDF.

If the Accessibility Check doesn’t discover any new issues, congratulations! You can save and close the PDF, knowing you have provided a level of accessibility that should allow most people to read the information you are sharing.

illustration of four people who are happy to be finished with this PDF accessibility lesson.
Happiness is being finished with PDF Accessibility!

Some PDF’s are Special Cases

Most simple PDF documents can be made accessible using the process we’ve just covered, but sometimes you will find a PDF with complicated layout and/or complex content, and those kinds of PDF documents can be very challenging to make accessible.

Sometimes it might be easier to come up with an alternate access strategy, or convert the PDF to a different type of document where the content can be communicated in an easier way.

Remember, PDF documents can come from many different places and technologies. Sometimes the source of the PDF simply does not create a data structure that can be made accessible.

Tomorrow I will cover how to ensure your data makes it out of MS Word and into Acrobat Pro with as little confusion or loss as is possible, and I will show you a free tool that might be able to help take your problem PDF and make it into something a little less problematic.

Until then – thanks for reading!