Transcripts and Captions to Meet Government Mandates

by Jay Durgan  13 January 2016

Not only are captions and transcripts helpful to your viewers and often necessary to their understanding of your content, they’re also, in some cases, legally mandated. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, failure to provide accurate, easily accessible captions in certain situations is discriminating against the deaf and hard of hearing, by not providing them with an equal opportunity to experience your content.

So, does the ADA apply to online content? Yes and no. It was first passed in 1990, before the Internet became widespread, and therefore doesn’t actually mention online videos or directly necessitates their captioning. However, in certain situations, organizations can still be held responsible if their online content doesn’t meet ADA standards for captioning and transcripts.

Not in all situations, of course. A simple YouTube video that showcases your brand and products won’t be in violation of the ADA if it isn’t captioned. So what types of content do have government mandated captions?

Well, educational content, for one. This includes everything from elementary to high school, as well as university and post-graduate content. In fact, both Harvard and MIT were recently involved in a class action suit, filed by the National Association for the Deaf, for failure to comply with these government mandates. The suit claimed that much of the schools’ online content, including course content, podcasts, and other audio and video material was not captioned. Furthermore, some of the content that was captioned or transcribed was inaccurate or unintelligible.

Jobs and employment are another area where captions are often necessary for ADA compliance. Many companies include online video content in their application, interview, or training processes. If that content isn’t captioned or transcribed, it will be inaccessible to deaf and hard of hearing applicants, and thus discriminatory.

Captions are also required for content related to healthcare, justice and legal matters, and a variety of other situations. In fact, just as they’re required for television programming, they can also be required for online entertainment content in certain situations. Another lawsuit was brought against Netflix in 2010, for failure to provide easily accessible captioning to the deaf and hard of hearing. As a general rule, even if captions or transcripts aren’t specifically mandated, it’s always a good idea to include them. It makes your content more accessible, and allows you to include everyone.


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