Closed Captioning: it’s a good idea, it’s the law, and it’s easy


by Becky Palmer-Scott

Most special education teachers know why closed captioning (CC) is important. “CC benefits students who are hard of hearing and those who are learning English. It clarifies technical and quickly-spoken dialogue, and helps maintain concentration in students with learning disabilities, attention deficits, and autism” said Ron Houtman, Kent ISD educational technology consultant.

americandisabilityact“It is also the law,” said Houtman in a MCEC conference presentation entitled “Captioning Made Easy”. He explained that the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA) states that people with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to participate in programs, services, and activities, and Title II of the ADA says that communication with persons with disabilities must be “as effective as communications with others.” This means that a printout of the video transcription is not enough. In addition, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 says that (among other guidelines) videos and live audio presented by the government must have captions. For schools, this means any website facing the public and materials used in the classroom.

If your school district is not in compliance, it only takes one complaint for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to open an investigation, said Houtman. You might not know when your school district is being investigated, but if it hasn’t been investigated yet, trust that it’s coming. A July 4, 2016 Detroit Free Press article entitled “Michigan woman fights for accessible websites in U.S. school districts” put schools on notice that someone was noticing them. So far in Michigan there have been about 700 cases opened, said Houtman.

If someone complains about your district, you will be given a limited amount of time to comply. But correcting the problem can be time-consuming, and most schools don’t have anyone assigned to take care of it. The good news is that creating CC is easy, so it’s wise to be proactive and get started on it now.

There are two needs for CC during school: 1) in pre-made videos, and 2) during classroom lectures. Houtman’s presentation gave solutions for both scenarios.

First steps

Most educational videos already include CC, so when using them, all you have to do is make sure the CC is on. This includes PBS Learning Media and Discovery Videos. If you are playing a show on a VHS tape, you might be able to find the same or equivalent show from either of these sources.

Second, reach out to the educational technology staff available to help you. Most school districts have them, and In Michigan, the Regional Educational Media Center ( is another source of help, and has representatives in all parts of the state. If you draw a blank on getting help, google “educational media center” or “educational technology center” along with your district or state name. Whomever you find might not have enough time to CC all your materials, but they can show how to do it.

Putting captions on videos

camtasia_vector_logo_0There are two easy-to-use tools to put captions on videos. One is TechSmith Camtasia. Camtasia costs about $300 but offers a 30-day free trial which is fully functional.

To create captions, open Camtasia and select File > Import > Media to import your video. Camtasia can generate captions for you, but they tend to be inaccurate, though you can edit them. To manually add captions, select More > CC Captions from the left sidebar, then in the Captions window, click +Add Caption. This will add a caption track to your video, in which you can type.

youtubeAnother tool for video captioning is YouTube. Go to and sign in with your school e-mail address (click the Sign In button in the upper right corner). This creates your own channel, if you don’t already have one. Google owns YouTube, so it prompts you to use a Google e-mail address, but if you use your school e-mail, ads will not play on your channel. (TIP: Another way to remove ads from YouTube videos is to install the “Magic Options for YouTube” Google extension.)

Once you have logged in, click the Upload button in the upper right corner of YouTube to add your video. Automatic generation of captions on YouTube seems to come and go, but it works relatively well when it’s available. To try it, read YouTube’s “Use automatic captioning” instructions. If the service isn’t working, you will at least have an easy way to manually add captions to your videos.

Real-time speech-to-text in the classroom

Samson microphone

Samson Stage XPD1 Presentation USB Digital Wireless Microphone System

For deaf or hard-of-hearing students, a solution exists that transcribes the teacher’s speech in real time, if the student can access Google Docs, which as an excellent speech-to-text tool.

The solution involves the teacher wearing a microphone that comes with a wireless USB receiver. The USB receiver plugs into the student’s laptop. A Google Docs document on the student’s laptop can then print the teacher’s speech when Tools > Voice Typing is activated in Google Docs.

One hardware tool for this is the Samson Stage XPD1 Presentation USB Digital Wireless Microphone System, which costs about $95. The drawback to this solution is that only one laptop can be used per microphone.

For more information on closed captioning, see Ron Houtman’s “Captioning Made Easy” notes at


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