George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Equity

How Video Captions Foster Equity

Video captions are necessary for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but they benefit everyone.

September 29, 2022
© Edutopia / Mansel Birst / Shutterstock

I remember sitting in multiple professional development sessions over the years, wondering why presenters were playing videos with no captioning or subtitles. I thought about my colleague who was hard of hearing. I thought about the staff members sitting in the back who may have found it difficult to hear. I thought back to conversations I had with my American Sign Language (ASL) students about the importance of captioning. Captioning videos is an equity issue.

A Matter of Equity

As an ASL teacher and advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing, I have to keep equal access to communication in mind. Educational equity includes making sure that all students have access to similar resources, including equal access to communication. It’s imperative that we implement ways to support all students by increasing their access to educational equity. This can begin with captioning all videos in every K–12 classroom.

While captioning is necessary for those with hearing loss, it can be extremely helpful for others as well, including students who are learning English. Captioning allows multilingual students to improve their literacy skills. Some of these students may not feel comfortable communicating their struggles.

One way to create equity in our classrooms is to ensure that closed captioning is available to all students so that no one feels singled out for any issues they may have. We want to reach all students. I had students who traveled to their native countries during the pandemic. Captioning made it easier for them and their multilingual parents to access educational videos during distance learning.

We have to be able to ensure that students have access to videos no matter their environment. Distance learning taught us that students might not have access to private rooms in their homes, could be taking care of siblings, might be attending virtual classrooms on breaks at work, or could be in many other environments that have distractions. Captions allow students to press mute and still have access to educational videos.

In my personal life, I often use captioning. If my son is sleeping or my husband is working in another room and I want to watch television, I turn on captions. I even use it on my phone when multitasking. Captioning has become an integral part of my life. That being said, I have many issues with inaccurate closed captioning. That’s why I encourage open captioning for all videos in K–12 education.

Open vs. Closed Captioning

Closed captions can be turned on or off. Open captions are always on because they’re actually part of the video, making them the most equitable choice. The biggest benefit of open captioning is that it eliminates the potential of inaccurate captioning. Open captions also have the advantage of being compatible with all devices, so students can watch these videos on their phones or laptops without worrying if the captions will translate.

How many times have we turned on our televisions or YouTube and wondered why the captions were incorrect? Accurate open captioning makes this problem null and void. Knowing the captions are completely accurate also means there will be nothing lost due to inaccurate communication.

I not only include open captioning on all of my videos but teach my own students to do the same. It is mandatory for all ASL video presentations. Open captioning allows for students to take ownership in their own contributions for making their videos accessible and inevitably increasing educational equity for all.

Captioning 101

My ASL students learn how to caption all of their videos early in the school year. It soon becomes second nature. In class, I often discuss the many communication barriers that are broken with the simple addition of captioning. In turn, they have joined the journey to become advocates for open access to communication. Here are three of their favorite captioning sites.

1. CapCut: Many students described CapCut as the most user-friendly program. This all-in-one video editing software has simple instructions and uses auto-captions, the content of which can be changed along with the font size.

2. Kaptioned: This program  is able to caption in other languages. It’s described as more accurate than CapCut but has fewer options and instructions, and no help button.

3. Adobe Premiere Pro: This program is for those who are more advanced in their video editing expertise. Some upper-level ASL students use this tool to change the style of captions, including the font, color, and size, thus making their videos more engaging and accessible to multiple viewers on multiple platforms. More ASL students overall are learning how to use the speech-to-text aspects of Adobe Premiere Pro to ensure that they have completely accurate captioning for all videos and presentations.

When we think about equity, captioning videos in K–12 education may not be the first issue that comes to mind. But this simple addition to our teaching practice will provide equal access to communication that supports literacy and differentiated instruction. Captioning has to become the new norm on all videos if we continue to say that we are striving for equity in education.

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