Transcription Guidelines, Standards, and Legal Requirements

August 21, 2018 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: September 29, 2021

Transcription is the process of converting video or audio content into text. It can be viewed below or on the side of the video. The transcript allows users to navigate through your content, providing a text alternative that they can follow along with, thus creating a better user experience.

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There are currently 48 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss. That is 20% of the U.S. population. With the increasing popularity of online video and audio, if you don’t provide transcripts, a significant portion of the population is being left out from consuming your content. There are a number of legal requirements, standards, and guidelines put in place to ensure that content is accessible to everyone. If you aren’t accommodating people with disabilities, your company could find itself in legal troubles down the line.

Legal Requirements for Transcription

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a broad anti-discrimination law for people with disabilities. Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state level. Governmental agencies must provide assistive technology or services as needed, in order to ensure effective communication with citizens. Title III of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by “places of public accommodation” that are privately owned – this includes libraries, universities, museums, theaters, and much more. The law states that all videos displayed within or distributed by such places must be captioned. This includes providing transcriptions for audio as well.

Some online businesses are considered “places of public accommodation” even though they may not be brick and mortar stores. The landmark case, NAD v. Netflix, is a prime example of how digital companies can be sued if they aren’t compliant with the law.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states that no person in the United States should be excluded from participating in any program receiving federal funding because of their disability. Federal entities as well as organizations funded by the federal government must provide equal access for users who are deaf or hard of hearing by offering closed captioning.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all electronic communication and information technologies, such as websites, email, or web documents, be accessible. As of January 18, 2018, Section 508 has been revised to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 standards. The goal is to establish a congruous standard for the federal government or entities receiving federal grants, while achieving global accessibility.

Transcription Standards

WCAG 2.0 was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium to create a set of guidelines in order to make digital content accessible for all users, including those with disabilities. While WCAG 2.0 isn’t a law, many countries and organizations have adapted it as a standard. WCAG 2.0 has three levels of compliance: Level A, AA, and AAA. Level AAA is the highest standard to meet. At the lowest level, Level A, transcripts are a recommendation for audio-only content. The Level A standard of WCAG 2.0 states that “an alternative for time-based media is provided that presents equivalent information for pre-recorded audio-only content”. This means that audio content must accommodate d/Deaf or hard of hearing users by providing transcripts.

There are four essential principles set in place to meet WCAG 2.0’s standards:

  1. Perceivable: users must be able to perceive the information and user interface in a way that is presentable to users
  2. Operable: users must be able to operate the interface successfully
  3. Understandable: users must be able to understand the information and user interface
  4. Robust: content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies

When do you need captioning and when is transcription sufficient?

video player on laptop

Captioning is required for pre-recorded and live presentations to make auditory information accessible to people who be deaf or hard of hearing. In order to ensure equal access and equal opportunity to participate for people with disabilities, many entities are obligated by law to provide captions. This applies to a variety of industries and governments including education, entertainment, and local and state governments.

Typically, captions are needed when there is video content like a television show or PowerPoint presentation with a voice over. In this case, users are able to see what’s happening on a screen while simultaneously getting the audio information. Transcripts however, are sufficient for audio-only content like teleconferences or podcasts. There are many benefits to transcripts. They not only increase accessibility for deaf or hard of hearing users, but they additionally help non-native English speakers and viewers who are in sound-prohibitive environments. It’s worth noting that a transcript alone is not enough to make a video accessible. A fully accessible video should include both captions and a transcript.

Guidelines for Transcriptions

The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) provides a set of guidelines for transcripts so that they can be accessible and readily available to those who want or need them. It’s important that the transcripts provided be equivalent to the audio content.

elements of quality captioning are that they must be accurate, consistent, clear, readable, and equal

3Play Media Transcription Best Practices

Here are some tips to make the most out of your transcripts:

  • Transcripts should be at least 99% accurate
  • Grammar and punctuation are important for providing maximum clarity
  • Speaker identification helps users identify who is speaking
  • Essential to communicate non-speech sounds
  • Transcribe content as close to verbatim as possible

To get started with transcription click below!
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