The 2 Biggest Closed Captioning Challenges in Higher Ed
Updated: June 3, 2019
On October 12, 2016 we conducted a webinar with Dr. Katie Linder, head researcher on the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit, presenting findings of a study about how US colleges and universities are handling closed captioning.
Results from the study were revealed and some very enlightening insights were discussed.
In total, 54 institutional staff members responded to the nationwide survey representing a mixture of large, small, public, and private colleges and universities scattered throughout various regions of the country.
Although US laws require closed captioning in higher education, the study ultimately concluded that there is no real, uniform approach to closed captioning across higher education in the US at this time. In fact, it is apparent that faculty, staff, and administrators still face a variety of challenges when it comes to fully understanding disability law, internal accessibility policy compliance, and best practices for closed captioning.
The Challenges and How We Can Help
Because we work with nearly 1000 customers in higher education, we’re going to address the 2 most common closed captioning challenges for academic administrators observed in the study: compliance and best practices.
Read on for highlights from the study, and some helpful advice and solutions we’ve picked up from nearly a decade in the business:
1) Confusion About Legal Requirements for Closed Captioning
There is still confusion about the legal requirements for higher education institutions regarding the closed captioning of videos.
At the same time, and possibly as a result of this confusion, only a handful of schools from the study feel certain they are following the rules.
While it was clear from the survey responses that accessibility law compliance was a major concern, most colleges and universities admitted that they weren’t meeting all the closed captioning requirements legally required of them.
Again, in the following graph we can see how few schools are captioning their video content. This could also be attributed to a lack of understanding the laws.
Partly because digital interfaces and other technologies like streaming video have become increasingly integral to nearly every aspect of higher education, web accessibility lawsuits have become more and more frequent.
And as people with disabilities run into more barriers-to-entry when using newer technologies, a lot of administrators are feeling less and less sure about whether, and to what degree the law requires that many of this technologies are made accessible.
Legal Actions Speak Louder than Words
It is true that specific terms like “online video” are missing from the written text of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title II and III of the Rehabilitation Act.
We recently had an architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act tell us that these laws, when drafted, were intended to keep pace with newer technologies.
So, the level of confusion in higher education is understandable from a legal language standpoint (which is why Rehabilitation Act Section 508, and Title II and III of the ADA are currently undergoing a refresh). But to clarify, these laws were always meant to ensure full and equal access to the current technology in question.
2) Decentralized Processes for Closed Captioning
Every institution faces limited resources and a unique set of scenarios in relation to closed captioning. However, ensuring your university is at least taking a high-level approach to video accessibility can save a lot of trouble in the long run.
Here are some helpful tips for running a successful, manageable closed captioning program at your institution taken from our white paper, Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education.
Best Practices for Closed Captioning
As you can see from the below image, a quarter to a third of respondents were unsure if guidelines existed in the creation of video content at their institution for in-class, online, and campus-wide (institutional) videos.
This may be due to some schools’ uncertainty about which closed captioning practices to follow, how to keep faculty and staff informed, or a combination of both.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has globally-used standards for closed captioning that are compliant with the US accessibility laws in higher ed, realistically implementable, and very helpful for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or reliant on closed captions other reasons.
The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA is currently considered the universal standard by lawmakers, educators, and disability rights advocates. It calls for highly accurate, time-synchronized captions for pre-recorded content, and realistic standards for live video content.
Web Accessibility Policy Design and Monitoring
Closed captioning guidelines should be included as part of your university’s wider accessibility policy.
And it’s one thing to have a great web accessibility policy. It’s another to enforce it.
That was what got UC Berkeley into trouble when the Department of Justice ordered them to make changes to their education information technology (EIT) or risk being sued. While their web accessibility policy is one of the best out there, their faculty and staff were not properly adhering to it and affected students complained.
While the organizational structure of disability services varies by school, it is import to ensure at least one person’s job includes internal monitoring for accessibility requirements.
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