Webinar: Video Accessibility at the University of Washington

Since 1984, UW’s accessibility task force has been working closely with departments and their faculty to educate and incorporate tools to facilitate classroom accessibility. UW’s vision is to “educate a diverse student body” that values “excellence, collaboration, innovation, and respect.”

At UW, they use two approaches to accessibility: accommodations, such as captioned videos, and universal design. With everything they implement they always ask, “how could we make this product more accessible and usable to all?”

In this webinar, Terill Thompson, Sheryl Burgstahler, and Doug Hayman will describe their multi-faceted approach to video accessibility, including their strategies and funding model for supporting captioning on campus, their research into various methods of producing and delivering audio description, and tools they’ve developed to support their video accessibility goals.

This presentation will cover:

  • An overview of UW’s accessibility policy and efforts
  • UW’s strategies and funding model for supporting captioning on campus
  • Methods for producing and delivering audio description
  • Tools UW has developed to support video accessibility goals


Terrill Thompson
Technology Accessibility Specialist | University of Washington

Sheryl Burgstahler
Director of Accessible Technology Services | University of Washington

Doug Hayman
Senior Computer Specialist | University of Washington

Sofia Enamorado (Moderator)
3Play Media

Webinar Q&A: Video Accessibility at the University of Washington

Terill Thompson, Sheryl Burgstahler, and Doug Hayman from the University of Washington’s office of Accessible Technology Services describe their multi-faceted approach to video accessibility. At UW, they understand the importance of having accessible video for students with disabilities, as well as the benefits of captioning and audio description for all students. Fortunately for the university, they aren’t the only ones in Washington to realize the importance of captioning. Public higher education institutions in the State of Washington, including UW, have a statewide contract for captioning with 3Play Media. In addition to the statewide contract, UW also has a captioning grant offered through the university. This statewide contract, along with the internal grant, have allowed UW to caption over 430 prominent videos free of charge to the users on campus.

Want to know how they do it? Here are answers to some of the big questions about their strategies and funding model, how they support captioning on campus, the various methods of producing and delivering audio description, and tools they’ve developed to support their video accessibility goals.

What was the process of getting this grant approved? How much is the grant for captioning? Does this amount change?

SHERYL BURGSTAHLER: We wrote the grant proposal to our parent organization, UW IT, which is the major IT organization on campus. Applying for the grant is part of a regular process where you can apply for some grant funding, particularly if you anticipate that you’ll try to institutionalize what you’re doing. That’s what we’d like to do.

Through the grant, we were able to secure $60,000 for captioning. It is temporary funding, but we expect it will last for at least another year. Then what we plan on doing is trying to seek funding beyond the UW IT funding through the Provost’s Office to see if this can be ongoing.

The way we’ve done it, you actually apply for funding through a quick survey, then our advisory board descides whether it’s appropriate. If it is, we say yes and we caption it.

Is audio description part of the grant?

SHERYL BURGSTAHLER: We did not include audio description when we applied for the grant money, in part because captioning was a bigger issue we were dealing with. Now it is flexible. That project is flexible enough that we’re now looking for opportunities to do some audio description with that funding, as well, to show how that can be done.

So we’re going to do some of that as well. But my guess is most of the money will still be spent on captioning.

What’s the difference between a statewide contract and the captioning grant? What type of content is covered under each system?

SHERYL BURGSTAHLER: The statewide grant is simply a grant. We sent out a request for proposals for giving us a good discount price on captioning. 3Play Media won that competition. Post-secondary institutions in the state can use that contract if they wish. They don’t have to, but if they use that 3Play Media contract, then they will get a discount.

The grant is money that is used to pay for captioning for some campus unit. So for instance, it might be video that our group looks at. Most cases, they go out to 3Play Media. And what it means is that $60,000 is being used to pay that to $2.00-plus per minute for captioning videos on campus. So it’s free to the people on campus, but it’s costing something that the grant covers.

The grant is money that is used to pay for captioning for some campus unit.

How do you handle videos that were posted without captions? Can you go back in and edit to have captions? Or do you have to take the video down and re-post it with captions?

DOUG HAYMAN: That varies platform by platform. If it’s a YouTube video, it’s pretty straightforward to just send the link to 3Play and then give the person using the video the SRT file to utilize with YouTube. We’ve had videos that are in a whole gamut of formats that we’ve had to sort of go case-by-case and see what the mode is for doing it.

When a video is being shown in class, would the instructor need to show the video with audio description on? Or does the student who needs it use their laptop to view it simultaneously as the class?

TERILL THOMPSON: We are all representative of Accessible Technology Services, where we’re doing video accessibility from a universal design standpoint. Unfortunately, we don’t have a representative here from Disability Services, who also provides accessibility for classroom settings and on an accommodation basis. I know that’s a question that has come up in their realm. I, unfortunately, can’t recall how they solved that. But it really is an interesting problem.

I think it probably depends, to some extent, on how extensive the audio description is and whether it might be perceived to be disruptive to students who don’t need it.

If you’re watching a video in class and somebody needs description, that could potentially be disruptive for others. I would think having an alternative version that’s watched on a laptop might be one approach. If it’s just a little bit of description, then having everybody exposed to that could be a good thing just for raising awareness, as well.

Are there minimum requirements that must be met to qualify for your internal grants? Or is it all relative to other requests in a given semester or fiscal year?

SHERYL BURGSTAHLER: As far as requests go, we evaluate them as they come in because we want to have a fast turnaround. So we don’t have the opportunity to compare with other requests that are coming in about the same time.

We’re looking for high impact, meaning a lot of people will see it over time. We tend not to fund a lecture that a faculty member is using unless they’re going to use it repeated times. One thing to be careful about is we’re referring to the proactive captioning. If a person who’s deaf requests captioning, they get captioning. That’s through the Disability Resources for students and the Disability Services Office.


At UW, they’re constantly working to improve web and video accessibility. It’s no easy task, as like a lot of institutions, they have a lot of videos. They have 57 known UW affiliated YouTube channels with nearly 2000 videos, almost 60,000 videos in Panopto, as well as videos on Vimeo, DVD, and even VHS. Watch the full webinar to learn more about video accessibility at the University of Washington, and how you can use some of their strategies at your institution.