Do Colleges Have Formal Guidelines for Closed Captioning?

Updated: July 9, 2019

Most institutions of higher education are required by U.S. law to provide closed captioning for their recorded lectures, online course, class materials, and other video content used for teaching and learning.

But while 87% of institutions are adding closed captions to at least some videos, 79% think they are only partially meeting legal requirements for captioning.

Setting formal guidelines for closed captioning can certainly help clear faculty confusion on the legal requirements for captioning.

But are institutions of higher educations creating formal guidelines?

The results from a captioning study by Oregon State University, can help answer this question.

Are there formal guidelines for closed captioning?

Respondents were asked if formal guidelines existed for closed captioning of face-to-face course videos, online course videos, and videos created for institutional purposes.

Are there formal guidelines for closed captioning? 15 face to face yes ,15 online yes,8 institutional yes. 14 face to face yes no,14 online no,8 institutional no. 10 face to face unsure,9 online unsure ,16 institutional unsure.

While an equal number of institutions have formal guidelines for face-to-face and online videos, an almost equal number do not have formal guidelines for either. In addition, formal guidelines for institutional videos remain unknown.

“I have required that all video in online courses be captioned. Video in face-to-face courses is captioned if there is a student that requests an accommodation. Video on our external website, video streams of sports events or commencement, and video on the campus television station are not captioned.”

    -Anonymous Respondent

Creating formal guidelines for all types of video content will help mitigate confusion over captioning laws and standards for individuals in an institution. Institutional video is just as important as face-to-face lecture video because it’s being disseminated to the public with the goal of reaching a wider audience. Adding captions will help capture that audience.

How are closed captioning guidelines communicated?

From the 32% of respondents who stated formal guidelines existed for closed captioning, they were then asked how these guidelines are communicated.

How are closed captioning guidelines communicated? 6 face to face yes, 10 online yes, 4 institutional yes, 7 face to face no, 3 institutional no, 3 online no, 0 face to face unsure, 2 online unsure, 1 institutional unsure.

The majority of respondents reported that guidelines were predominantly communicated for online course videos over any other type of video content.

“I know that some units are doing their best and making sure that their videos are captioned while other units are choosing to ignore the law. My office tells anyone that will listen that all media is legally required to be captioned. Media being shown in courses with students who require captioning as an accommodation is met as long as the student identifies to the professor.”

    -Anonymous Respondent

If formal guidelines aren’t communicated, how can members of the institution follow them or know what is required? As previously demonstrated, around 35% of respondents were unsure if formal guidelines for captioning existed. Active and continuous communication will help span greater awareness for closed captioning requirements, and in turn, create better planning while avoid litigation.

Are there criteria for effective closed captioning?

The FCC and WCAG 2.0 outline criteria for captioning, but many stylistic elements are left up to the caption creator’s discretion.

Are there criteria for effective closed captioning? 36% noted there is criteria. 49% noted there isn't criteria. 15% noted they are unaware of any criteria

Respondents were asked if their institution had set criteria for effective closed captioning, and if this criteria was communicated to video creators.

The results showed 36% of respondents had criteria for effective closed captioning, while only 15% were unaware of any methods.

The majority of respondents (49%), did not have a criteria for closed captioning.

How are criteria for effective closed captioning communicated?

As the results show, institutions with a criteria for closed captioning have many ways of disseminating these standards to their video creators.

Via a Disability Services Office 15, 31.9% Website 13, 27.7% Written Policy 8, 17.0% Via a Technology Support Office 8,17.0% Via a Pedagogical Support Office (e.g. a Center for Teaching and Learning), 6, 12.8% Via Faculty Leadership 5, 10.6% Other 5, 10.6% I don't know 1, 2.1%.

The Disability Services Office and institutional website were the most common methods of communication when it came to disseminating criteria to staff. The least common was via a faculty leadership position such as chairs and deans.

The results perhaps hint at a need for greater responsibility of accessibility initiatives at the departmental level, not just from the Disability Services Office.

Who is responsible for quality of closed captions?

Even though an institution may be captioning content, it doesn’t mean they’re making it accessible. Caption quality is crucial because captions are meant to match the spoken words to the fullest extend.

 in order of frequency, high to low. Office of Disability Services, The creator of the video, Staff who are dedicated to closed captioning, A third party outside of this institution, Office of Information Technology, No one is designated to do this, I don't know, Other, Automated software.

For the majority of institutions caption quality is monitored by the Office of Disability Services and the creator of the video. An equal number of institutions either have a dedicated staff member or hire a third party captioning service. Approximately 15% of respondents disclosed they don’t have a designated quality control method.

In conclusion

While many institutions have implemented guidelines and criteria, there is still a long way to go for universal compliance.

Enacting formal guidelines will certainly propel accessibility initiatives at your institution. As the OSU study found, lack of general awareness was the number one barrier to captioning. Once your guidelines are set, establishing a communication funnel to disseminate these guidelines will help facilitate a more proactive approach to captioning at your institution and break down the captioning barriers.

Want to learn more about how other schools are handling captioning? Click on the link below for a free download of the full report, Implementation of and Solutions for Closed Captioning in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education:

Download the full report

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