Nov 21, 2009

YouTube Captioning Makes Video More Accessible for All

Dear Google/YouTube,
We want it. We want it NOW!
Your Dot-gov Buddies

Johnny's hearing aids. Johnny is  my son.A big barrier to making video content available to people who can't hear is creating captions for the audio--like the closed captioning you see on TV. This is especially important to government because we are required-- by law and by mission--to make content available to all people, regardless of their abilities. So, the dot-gov space was a-flutter [I almost said a-twitter, and that was true too] when Google announced two new features to make videos on YouTube accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired.

First, and available to EVERYONE now, YouTube account holders can upload a transcript with a video and YouTube will be automatically generate, time stamp, and incorporate captions into your video.

What does this mean? Well, in order for captions to make sense, they need to be coded to match up with the audio on the video. Bottom line, using current technologies, it takes more than a few painstaking staff hours to time code a 15 minute video. This delays posting the video--or fosters a reluctance to create video content or, even worse, encourages posting video that people who are deaf can't access. This is a huge problem for time sensitive, safety messages.

Why is this extra cool? The generated YouTube caption file can be downloaded from YouTube and used in other versions of the video. Most federal agencies post their video on a dot-gov site in addition to posting on YouTube. This will turn around processes and let us create the timestamp file on YouTube to post with our videos. Yay! I know at least one hard working captioner who will be ecstatic to turn her attention to more video production and less caption production. Breaking news: IT WORKS!!

[Google has] combined Google's automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. The captions will not always be perfect, but even when they're off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time. --Read more on the Google Blog.
Auto-caps is being piloted withUC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke, UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic, Demand Media, UNSW and most Google & YouTube channels.

This is pure awesomeness--despite any imperfections in machine generated captions--because unscripted events require a transcriptionist at cost of time and money. If the captioner is also transcribing it can take an hour to get a minute or two of captioning done. Google's auto-caps is a game changer with the potential to make more video more accessible to everyone.

Let's let Google explain the service:

This is great news for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. This is great news for government agencies that struggle with the cost and expertise required to make video accessible to everyone. This is great news because government can't be transparent for most of the people--open government is only meaningful when it's available to all.

Dear Google/YouTube,
Thanks for this new service! We are happy to help beta test your auto-captioning feature. Give us a call!
Your Dot-gov Buddies


  1. If our federal agency depends on Youtube, a "free" service, for captioning and hosting mission critical video, what are the risks? Do we have a guarantee that those captioned videos will be available like we would if a paid outsourcing vendor hosted them?

    As the Section 508 coordinator at my agency, I like the idea of easy-to-acquire captions. Once the budget line item goes away for paid transcripts and captions, it will be a negotiation to get that money back in the departmental budget. Can Youtube deliver?

  2. Auto-caption does not work. captioning does.


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