The Benefits of Captions

Many accessibility efforts to make information more accessible to users with disabilities provide benefits to all users. Calling out these benefits can lead to a decision for accessibility in spite of the benefits provided to users with disabilities. Captions are a great example,here are a few lists outlining some of those:

Even if you are a callous jerk who doesn’t care about the 3.5% of the general population who are deaf or hard of hearing, there are other benefits commonly cited in the above lists:

  • Increased usability for everyone.
  • Education and literacy benefits.
  • Increased search engine traffic.
  • Search captioned video to find specific video segments.
  • Access to audio information in a noisy environment.
  • Helpful in learning a second language.

Those all make a lot of sense, but I wanted to find some specific examples and research to back up those assertions. Here is what I found:

Increased Usability for Everyone

I don’t have hearing loss, but I always turn on captions when they are available and apparently I’m not along. In 2006, Ofcom (the regularity authority for the UK communications industries) published a report with the following blurb on the number of people who use subtitles:

In the UK adult population as a whole, over 7.5 million people (18%) are estimated to have used subtitling at least once, of whom over 6 million people would have no hearing impairment. 39% of those with a hearing impairment say that they have used it, equating to just over 1.4 million people. Amongst case study respondents with a hearing impairment, 49% said that they used it to watch all, most or some programmes, a figure that rose to 76% for those with a severe or profound hearing loss. (Section 2.20)

Muffled audio, thick accents or whatever– captions make audio easier to understand.

See Also: The hearing majority of captioning viewers from Joe Clark and WETA’s Captions Increase & Sustain Their Video Viewership from Peter Crosby at DotSUB.

Education and Literacy Benefits

I also try to turn captions on for my kids:

Increased search engine traffic

While these benefits may occasionally be overstated as not all captioned video is indexed by all search engines, there are definite SEO benefits from captioned video for at least some services/search engines. If nothing else, posting the video transcript with the video will ensure that your video content can be indexed by search engines.

We can only hope that as search engines take advantage of captions to deliver more relevant video content to users I hope it doesn’t lead to a rash of captioned videos of video spammers yelling about cheap online pharmaceuticals and work from home opportunities.

Search Captioned Video to Find Specific Video Segments

This video from Hulu demonstrates this idea very well (ironically, it’s uncaptioned):

You can try it out for yourself by doing to the Hulu Captions Search page.

On a completely unrelated sidenote, there is a great story of how the husband of a Deaf woman had a brother with a friend who was a programmer at Hulu helped to get captions rolling at Hulu.

You can also see this functionality at the DO-IT Video collection., CaptionBox is a jQuery plugin that allows you do add some of this functionality to videos on your site.

Access to Audio Information in a Noisy Environment

I’ve often heard the face that the most common use of captions is when they are turned on for televisions in a restaurant or gym. I looked pretty hard and can’t find any hard data to verify that assertion, but I know that I appreciate caption being turned on when I eat out. Unfortunately it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym so I can’t speak to that. Also, those children I mentioned earlier who I turn on captions for the educational benefits? There are four of them and they can be noisy- captions are a godsend when my wife and I are watching a show with the kiddos in the room.

Helpful in Learning a Second Language

Here are a few academic articles on this topic with fancy words, complicated charts, the works:

That’s It

What did I miss?