Higher Ed: Solving the Closed Captioning Dilemma

Posted by Michael Moran on Mar 27, 2017
Michael Moran
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Cal Berkeley, CU Boulder, Louisiana Tech, Harvard, MIT, University of Montana, University of Cincinnati, Florida State University, Northwestern, Penn State, NYU

What do these schools have in common? These institutions of higher education have all been sued over accessibility impediments of some form at their universities. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Though the Act is 26 years old, a significant portion of lawsuits and violations by American universities related to accessibility have occurred in the last few years, and a number of these arose around closed captioning and accessibility in video content.

When we ask them about closed captioning, many schools say, “We don’t have any hard-of-hearing students, so this isn’t an issue for us.” While captioning may not be a priority if there are no students who need it, as soon as a student enrolls with a hearing impediment, the clock is ticking to get procedures in place. The moment a lack of accommodation becomes an obstacle to the student’s ability to learn, the university becomes liable. Other schools are well-aware of the requirements, and are scrambling to find a solution, forming committees and evaluating vendors. Still others acknowledge their need and create last-minute workarounds or accommodations for students, hiring Teaching Assistants to type up the captions, or captioning with YouTube and fixing the errors.

At first glance, a few questions come to mind. First, why is the compliance process perceived as such a burdensome project for schools? Furthermore, why do schools put off preparing dormant-but-ready procedures for accessibility at their schools? Finally, how could this process become easier?

P.S. We host a webinar once a month covering everything you need to know about closed captioning for your university

Let’s take a look at these questions. To begin, the process of becoming compliant takes a large investment of both time and money. Universities may seek the help of consultants or form committees to audit their current learning environment, then select the suggested tools and processes, and finally roll the solutions out and put them in place. When it’s all said and done, frankly, the compliance process can be very time-consuming and costly. But it doesn’t have to be, and diving into this question lends to answering the second. Many schools have experienced the roadblocks in place that require large amounts of money and time associated with compliance, and other schools become hesitant to do so when they see these obstacles.

The final question is the most important, because it addresses what can change and how this process can improve. There are many captioning services that can integrate with your video content, though this often results in a new, cumbersome process of file exchange for your IT or Disability Services departments. Typically, a faculty member will record a video of the content they need captioned. Then, they will send this video file to either the IT or Disability Services department, or whoever handles captioning. Then, that department will send the video to the captioning service they choose may wait more than 48 hours for the content to return. At this point, the IT or Disability personnel receive the video file and send it back to the professor, who then uploads it to the LMS system for the students to access. Before it is all said and done, a week passes between the video’s initial creation and when it is available with captioning to the students. Some schools’ video platforms require the schools to enter into a separate contract with the platform’s preferred captioning provider, resulting in a separate variable expense associated with video that can be hard to manage and forecast over the course of an academic year.

When we began breaking into higher education, the team at ilos realized how fragmented the existing video captioning process was, and we aimed to fix it. In developing our video platform and working with more and more institutions, we have learned a number of best practices and requirements surrounding closed captioning that we want to share with you.


In order to help schools understand the nuances and specifications of Section 508 closed captioning requirements, we host a webinar once a month to give you everything you need to know. 

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