How 3 Schools Implemented University-Wide Captioning

November 21, 2017 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: March 16, 2021

Download the infographic: A beginners Guide to University-Wide Captioning
While captioning is mandated by the law, many universities struggle to implement an effective campus-wide workflow for captioning. A lot of the time, the biggest hurdles come down to building awareness, getting funding, and making sure faculty comply.

Captioning and accessibility policies are not one size fits all, but there are common practices among top universities who have nailed university-wide captioning that other universities can implement.

Below we explore the common practices between the University of Washington, the University of Arizona, and the University of Wisconsin that have led to a successful implementation of a university-wide captioning solution.


Tip 1: Campus-wide accessibility policy

The first step to achieving university-wide captioning is to implement a university-wide accessibility policy that includes captioning.

That top-down commitment sends a message across campus that accessibility matters, and that the university will support each member of the community to achieve this vision.


At Washington, Arizona, and Wisconsin, their accessibility policies are published publicly on their website. But simply making a statement is just the first step, and each of these three universities certainly don’t stop there.

Each unique policy clearly defines the expectations and conditions for each element in the policy. They provide links to resources, checklists, and contacts that faculty, staff, and students can use to comply with the policy.

Tip 2: Prioritize captioning

Going hand-in-hand with a detailed accessibility policy is also a clear statement signifying a campus-wide commitment to captioning.


The exact workflow for captioning differs at each institution, but ultimately they all place the responsibility on the content creators.

Tip 3: Spreading awareness

When a university places the responsibility of captioning on the content creators, it’s important that they don’t just send them into the captioning trenches unarmed.

Too many times faculty are sent out with only a grain of knowledge on proper captioning practices. They know they have to do it, but they are unsure of how and what they should be captioning. As a result, motivation to comply rapidly dwindles, leading to unwarranted complaints from students, or even worse, costly lawsuit.

The key to avoiding this debacle is to spread awareness.

At Washington, Arizona, and Wisconsin, the accessibility team works to touch every department on campus (the key here is works).

Emails are effective in spreading a message, but pair them with in-person workshops, trainings, and the occasional surprise visit and soon enough everyone on campus will be an agent for accessibility.


While all three universities focus on these gorilla-style messaging practices, there are a few key differences that are tailored to the campus culture.

At the University of Washington, training and education efforts are provided for staff but focused on the key stakeholders like the content creators.

At the University of Arizona, the responsibility to caption is placed on the departments and units, therefore Disabilities Resource Center outreach specialist work with these facets to ensure they have the proper tools and resources to then relay the expectations to faculty and staff. The key to Arizona’s strategy is to create accessibility champions in each department that are tasked with disseminating the information to the rest of the campus.

In addition, they make it their mission to be a constant presence on campus, attending various meetings, presentations, and reaching out to people asking, “How can we make this project more accessible?

At the University of Wisconsin, the Media Services team works closely with faculty to create engaging content, and they always top off conversations with how they can make the content more accessible.

Tip 4: Organizing a team

What’s the point of an initiative if you don’t have anyone backing it up?

Organizing a passionate team is the key. But how many warriors do you actually need to do real damage on campus?

The truth is, all three of these stellar universities started with very small teams (ranging from 1-4). So it doesn’t take a village, just one passionate, zealous individual who can kickstart the process and spread the word.

Once your initiative begins to gain momentum, you can bring more people along and spread the labor.

And if you don’t have the funds to hire new individuals, getting volunteers is a good place to start.


Tip 5: Recognize the benefits captioning brings to everyone

Captions are helpful to all individuals, particularly when it comes to education.

In fact, 98.6% of all students say captions help them. The biggest reason is that they help them focus on the content.

Ultimately, the benefit outweighs the cost.

In addition, a national study showed that 2/3rd of students with disabilities never self-disclose their disabilities when they get to college. So having accommodations like captioning in place will help these students engage better with the content.

With this certainty in place, faculty, departments, and staff at Arizona, Washington, and Wisconsin are more motivated to be proactive with their captioning. Instead of captioning being a troublesome obligation, it becomes more of a resource to support student success.

So how do you spread awareness?

Arizona, Washington, and Wisconsin all recognize and communicate this benefit to their communities through presentations, emails, and in meetings.



Tip 6: Adapting WCAG 2.0, Federal Laws, and Universal Design

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are by far the most universal and popular guidelines for web accessibility. Created by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is a set of guidelines to ensure online content is accessible to all users.

WCAG 2.0 uses four universal design principles with three levels of compliance (Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA).

Arizona, Washington, and Wisconsin have all implemented WCAG 2.0 Level AA into their accessibility guidelines. In terms of online media content, this means that all videos must have captions and all audio must have transcripts.

Do note that as off January 2018, all institutions covered under Section 508 will need to ensure their content complies with WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria.
In addition, all three universities also state the federal laws that bind them to make their content accessible.

At Washington, they state, “the underlying foundation of the policies and the UW’s IT Accessibility Guidelines is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Amendments Act of 2008.

At Arizona, they state under “Standards” that they have adopted Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Under their World Wide Web Accessibility Policy, Wisconsin states that “Reasonable effort must be taken to ensure that legacy Web pages and resources are in compliance with these subsections of the Federal Rehabilitation Act Section 508.”


Ultimately, what these three universities have adopted is universal design. Universal design is “the design of product and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design.”

Tip 7: Review and improve: regular audits

Managing the accessibility of a university is hard work. There are countless departments, hundreds of classes, and thousands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

So how do you stay on top of making sure that everyone is following the best practices for accessibility?

Two words: regular audits.

Too often we start with a lot of momentum, but then swiftly begin to lose it. So having regular checkups throughout the whole campus helps keep people accountable and reminded that accessibility initiatives, such as captioning, are not a one-time thing.

Use this list of resources to learn how to conduct an audit.

Tip 8: Shaping a captioning process

When people think of captioning their content, they often feel overwhelmed, especially when trying to find a university-wide solution.

Fortunately, there are many ways to make captioning less daunting, and luckily, we have access to Washington’s, Arizona’s, and Wisconsin’s secret sauce for captioning.

University of Washington


At UW, accessibility starts with the content creator.

So to help the creators, the university has implemented many resources and strategies that have shaped the university’s captioning culture.

At UW, a lot of video content is outsourced to third parties for captioning. But the reality of paying for captioning at such a big and diverse university is that it can be expensive.

So instead of letting this hold them back, they prioritize content based on reach, views, requests, and overall impact.

One way they do this is by using YouTube data. They look at the number of videos, the number of hours, and the traffic related to the video. The most popular videos are then put at the top of the captioning list, and they work there way down from there.

If a video that isn’t popular is requested to have captions, that also goes to the top of the captioning list.

The key is that the most popular videos are reaching the most diverse audiences, so it’s important to make them accessible first, then work on the least popular until, eventually, all videos are captioned.

In addition, the university has implemented a captioning grant for high impact videos that faculty can apply for. Faculty who receive the grant are then educated on how to caption future videos.

Lastly, the Disability Services Office works with students when they need captioning, so funding can always be provided for important videos.

University of Arizona


UA’s University-wide commitment to captioning began with an initiative to inform all departments about captioning. Once the conversation was started, they found that faculty and students were interested.

To help alleviate the expense of captioning, the university has implemented a hybrid approach to captioning. Short, 4-minute long videos are captioned by an in-house staff of student workers. Longer videos are handed off to third-party vendors.

The funding for captioning comes out of an institutional budget set by Arizona’s Disability Resource Center. Instead of captioning all videos, the university prioritizes videos that go out to the public and student requested videos. This strategy has allowed the university to avoid captioning lectures that a student won’t listen to again or have already attended.

University of Wisconsin


At UW, videos are captioned based on accommodation requests, design of use, and permanence.

For example, all promotional videos are captioned. Most classes are not captioned unless a student requests it or if it’s part of their collaborative degree program (where all videos are captioned).

If captions are not available, downloadable transcripts are available for students.

Budgeting for accommodations is left to the departments since the university doesn’t have a central accessibility office. What they do have is a campus center, the McBurney Disability Resource Center, where students can submit a request and the center will then contact the professors.

If a department’s budget is “severely impacted” by the captioning costs, the department can request a reimbursement from the university.

Captioning contracts

A common theme among all three universities is that they’ve all established a university-wide contract with one or more captioning vendors. Having a contract in place not only helps facilitate a quick response to captioning needs, but it also helps save money and centralize captioning workflows.

Now it’s your turn!

Take these best practices and begin working your way toward univerity-wide captioning. Start slow! After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Download the infographic: A beginners Guide to University-Wide Captioning

Get started with captioning today!

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