Video Captions: They are for Everyone

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According to principles of Universal Design for Learning, because learners vary in how they can become interested or motivated to learn, it is crucial to provide multiple ways to engage learners (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014).  One medium to consider is video, which, when well-planned, can engage students and facilitate a sense of community.  However, when designing instruction, it is important to ensure that materials are usable and accessible to individuals with a range of abilities, ages, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, experiences, and learning style.

One consideration is ensuring that video content offers captions. Captions are defined as “…on-screen text descriptions that display a video product’s dialogue, identify speakers, and describe other relevant sounds that are otherwise inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions are synchronized with the video image so that viewers have equivalent access to the content that is originally presented in sound, regardless of whether they receive that content via audio or text.”  (

Closed Caption Example

While one might assume that captions would be helpful primarily to students with a hearing impairment, in reality, all students with a range of abilities could also benefit. These include students with a learning disability, individuals whose first language is different than the language spoken in the video, students who watch the video in a noise environment, or any student who might benefit from both reading captions and listening to the accompanying audio. Findings from a recently released national survey of college students seems to support this practice, revealing that 35% of students said they always or often used closed captions when they were available, while 52% said they used them because they aid with comprehension (Linder, 2016). The study found that approximately 46% used transcripts for the same reason.

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is available to help faculty who want to learn to add captions to videos they have created, through a time-saving process that does not require directly transcribing the video. The basic steps are:

  1. Record a video using a video camera, smartphone, screencasting software, or other means.
  2. Upload the video to YouTube as a Private video. This prevents the video from being seen by anyone but the owner.
  3. Once YouTube has processed automatic caption for the video, download the captions as a .srt file.
  4. Open the .srt file using a text editor and edit the text as necessary to be more accurate.
  5. Upload the video and the .srt file to the MEDIAL server to embed the video in your course. On MEDIAL, you can protect the video by using the Personal security setting, so the video is only available to the owner and the students in the course.

If you have written a script, you can upload it to YouTube’s Closed Captions editor, and YouTube will automatically synchronize the script with the video. This is more accurate than the automatic captions, and you won’t have to edit the .srt for accuracy. Once YouTube has processed the captions, you can download the .srt file and then continue with step 5 (upload to MEDIAL).

If you have questions, please contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator at the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. He would be delighted to go through the process to ensure that you are comfortable adding captions to your videos.


Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national Study. Retrieved from on February 28, 2017.

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: theory and practice. Wakefield: CAST Professional Publishing.

Universal Design for Learning **New 3-Part Online Series**

MP90043953621st Century college students bring a diverse set of preferences, skills and expectations to the classroom. Engaging and motivating students in the dynamic age in which we live can be a challenge. The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is pleased to announce a series of 3 new online workshops on the topic of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). To address the diverse needs and preferences of students in 21st century classrooms, we will explore how UDL concepts can be applied in both traditional and online courses.

During the first online session hosted on February 23, 2016, an overview of Universal Design for Learning was discussed. The three areas of Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Means of Engagement, Multiple Means of Representation and Multiple Means of Action/Expression, were introduced to provide the foundation for the series of workshops. Additionally, the first workshop provided a more in depth focus on Multiple Means of Engagement. Participants from a wide range of disciplines and departments shared many different perspectives as well as tips and strategies for incorporating UDL principles in courses they are designing and teaching. We enjoyed collaborating with NIU participants and colleagues from other institutions in this online workshop. View the workshop recording below.

The series of workshops will be fully online to allow participants to connect from the comfort of their home, office or other location using an Internet connection. The newly released Blackboard Collaborate Ultra platform will be used to conduct all of the online workshops.

All of the workshops will be held from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. CST. The second workshop Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Means of Representation will be hosted on March 24th. NIU faculty, teaching assistants, and staff can register here. Those who are interested from other institutions can register here. The final workshop Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Means of Action/Expression will be scheduled for April 2016. We look forward to engaging with you during the series of workshops.

New Resource for Enhancing Accessible Online Instruction

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While faculty may be spending more time contemplating the design of their online course offerings, an equally important consideration is ensuring accessibility of their content to students. Just as faculty differ in their level of experience, competence, and comfort in the area of online instruction, they may also differ in recognizing the need to ensure their course content is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Proactively addressing accessibility issues can support student engagement, encourage quality collaboration, and promote a greater sense of inclusivity and community among students in online courses.

Blackboard, the course management system used at Northern Illinois University, recently developed a resource to address the issue of accessibility. Working in collaboration with a consortium of accessibility minded personnel from universities in the United States and abroad,  this online course was designed with the goal of improving accessibility for its users by encouraging faculty to build courses that are usable and accessible.  This new resource appears to reflect Blackboard’s commitment to expanding accessibility. Blackboard Learn 9.1 was recently awarded National Federation of the Blind Gold Level of Certification.

The new Blackboard resource is in the form of a self-paced course in Blackboard entitled, “Universal Design and Accessibility for Online Courses”.

While the public perception of the term “accessibility” may be tied to a student population with physical or cognitive disabilities, an important feature of Universal Design  is that its inclusive instructional design elements benefits a broad range of learners.  Given the increasingly diverse characteristics of students, (i.e., educational background, age, gender culture, ability, disability, primary language) faculty can design a more supportive learning environment by anticipating the student needs rather than reacting to them.  One example would be to include a transcript of a narrated lecture capture which could be useful for students whose native language is not English.  Similarly, faculty who utilize videos as supplemental course material, might only select videos that have captioning available, a feature that could be beneficial for students with a hearing impairment.

Universal Design


While the learning objectives of this self-paced, online course focus on applying, promoting, and expanding awareness of Universal Design principles, the online course also includes modules on Accessibility for Online Learning, Assistive Technology, and Learning Styles.

Module Areas

While the public perception of the term “accessibility” may be tied to a student population with physical or cognitive disabilities, an important feature of Universal Design  is that its inclusive instructional design elements benefits a broad range of learners.  Given the increasingly diverse characteristics of students, (i.e., educational background, age, gender culture, ability, disability, primary language) faculty can design a more supportive learning environment by anticipating student needs rather than reacting to them.  One example would be to include a transcript of a narrated lecture capture which could be useful for students whose native language is not English.  Similarly, faculty who utilize videos as supplemental course material, might only select videos that have captioning available, a feature that could be beneficial for students with a hearing impairment.

Discussions on design guidelines for universal accessibility include helpful suggestions to keep the webpage layout simple and consistent, use alternative text for images, and the need to design large buttons. Assistive Technology provides enhancements to interacting with software and hardware required to accomplish required task (i.e., screen reader, hearing aide, and voice recognition software). The module on Learning Styles offers suggestions for designing appealing material with different learning styles in mind in order to more effectively engage learners.

This course will be available to faculty through the Blackboard course management system in March 2012. It will appear as a new course in the “My Courses” module.

Listing of My Courses

Faculty are encouraged to explore this new resource.  In  addition, they are also invited to visit a resource compiled by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, ‘Resources for Accessible Teaching’ available at For questions, contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

New Resource for Accessible Teaching

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Faculty can enhance instruction by considering how the design and delivery of their content in a digital and/or web environment can overcome barriers to learning.  For example, one might inquire whether ‘accessibility’ could revolve around how students with visual impairments can access video and multimedia products, or how faculty can ensure that a student who is deaf can access content in their audio podcast.

In the broadest sense, ‘accessibility’ refers to the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. This brief article focuses on resources that promote accessible teaching in both digital (computer) and web (online) settings.  Berners-Lee, founder and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, defines web accessibility as putting the internet and its services at the disposal of  all individuals, whatever their hardware or software requirements, their network infrastructure, their native language, their cultural background, their geographic location, or their physical or mental aptitudes (Berners-Lee, Hendler, Lassila, 2001). Limited digital and web accessibility disproportionately impacts person with disabilities, who make up approximately 12% of the civilian non-institutionalized population in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). In higher education, 9% of undergraduates are reported to have a disability (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). Barriers to access include visual (blindness, weak vision, color blindness), auditory (deaf, hard of hearing, high/low frequency hearing loss), mobility (repetitive stress injuries, arthritis, spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs/digits), and cognitive/emotional (learning disabilities, psychiatric/mental health impairments).

Faculty Development is hosting a new website offering resources that promote accessible teaching for the NIU community.  The purpose of this website is to increase awareness of digital and web accessibility issues as well as offer faculty practical assistance in improving the accessibility of their online content and delivery.   The website is organized into several topic areas impacting accessible teaching: Pedagogy, Technology, Legislation, Guidelines, and Learning Management Systems.

Pedagogy -   In examining methods to improve instruction, faculty might consider how an accessible design might be used to expand access to all users, whether a disability exists or not (Brewer, 2003, slide 3). While accessible design of content is commonly believed to benefit only persons with disabilities, Anson, Marangoni, Mills, and Shah (2004, ¶1) report that accessible design as universal design, benefits all users, independent of disability.  Universal Design, according to Danielson (1999), “is the design of instructional materials and activities that makes the learning goals achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to hear, see, speak, move, read, write, and a host of other cognitive functions (pp. 2-3).”   According to Scott (2002), “Universal Design Instruction offers a proactive alternative for ensuring access to higher education for college students with disabilities. By providing faculty with a framework and tools for designing inclusive college instruction, the dialogue surrounding college students with disabilities changes from a focus on compliance, accommodations, and nondiscrimination to an emphasis on teaching and learning (¶4).” This section of the website provides resources for faculty wishing to expand their knowledge of Universal Design principles, as well opportunities to view examples of best practices.

Technology – Adaptive technology refers to assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices targeting people with a range of disabilities. A faculty member’s approach to designing and delivering instruction can be better informed by having a greater understanding of how technology is used to enhance accessibility for students with disabilities.   In the context of digital and web accessibility, hardware devices and software products which increase computer access include accessible on/off switches, flexible positioning or mounting of keyboards and monitors, speech input, specialized voice and Braille output devices, screen readers, captioned videos, alternatives to audio output, and text to speech programs. The resources in this section of the website include overviews of adaptive technology and computer applications for persons with disabilities, as well as the training necessary to locate, compare, and implement adaptive/assistive technology.

Legislation –This topic area links to resources describing landmark federal and state legislation promoting expanded accessibility. Although these resources offer both a historical and developmental view of accessibility legislation, more importantly, they provide instruction on implementation. Legislation includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and more recently, the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act of 2008. Of particular importance is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended Sections 508 (1998) which mandates that programs and services be accessible to people with disabilities.

Guidelines – In promoting accessible teaching, it is critical to provide guidelines or standards that support an understanding and implementation of web accessibility.  The guidelines for Section 508 compliance and those provided for web content accessibility by the World Wide Web Consortium provide guidance for web authors in producing accessible webpages (Brewer, slide 20). In addition to reviewing guidelines and standards, users are encouraged to submit their course website for an evaluation of accessibility.

Learning Management Systems– Resources in this topic area are geared toward expanding accessibility for users of the Blackboard learning management system. Resources include a Blackboard Quick Start guide on universal design and accessibility, video sessions in which a user who is blind uses the screen reader ‘JAWS’ to interact with and complete various tasks in Blackboard Learn including submitting an assignment, taking a test, building content and grading students, and even a description of new features in Blackboard 9.1 on accessibility. There are a number of helpful resources for users of Wimba, a synchronous/asynchronous collaboration tool integrated with Blackboard. These include examples of applying accessibility technology, product accessibility templates, and an accessibility best practices guide.

In addition to being structured by topic areas, the teaching accessibility resources website is also organized by links to NIU-based resources, NIU support units, and general resources not affiliated with NIU.  Resources are provided in the form of organization/informational websites, blogs, videos, pdf documents, PowerPoint presentations, and even an archived Wimba session.  A principal feature of this website is the ongoing modification of content, with the addition of newly identified resources that become available, while outdated or inactive websites are removed.  In addition, it is anticipated that new resources, in the form of brief practical tutorials, will be developed and added to further enhance faculty skills in expanding accessibility for teaching. Users are invited to suggest additional resources not currently featured. Faculty are welcome to explore the many resources at:


Anson, D, Marangoini, R., Mills, K., & Shah, L. (2004). The Benefit of Accessible Design for Able-Bodied Users of the World Wide Web. Assistive Technology Research Institute at Misericordia University.  Retrieved  on September 20, 2010 from

Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., & Lassila. O. (2001). The Semantic Web. Scientific American, 2001 May 284 5:34-43.

Brewer, J. (2003). Online Overview of the Web Accessibility Initiative. Retrieved from September 29, 2010, from

National Center for Education Statistics (2002). Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Institutions: 1999-2000 Statistical Analysis Report.  U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, NCES 2002-168.

Scott, S. (2002). Universal Design for Instruction Fact Sheet. Retrieved on September 21, 2010 from:

United States Census Bureau, Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2009, Retrieved on September 21, 2010 from:

What is Universal Design (UD)? (2008). Retrieved on November 1, 2010 from:

Free Online Accessibility Conference at UIC, September 30th

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The UIC College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) is sponsoring a FREE Online Accessibility Summit on September 30, 2010 from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm at UIC University Hall 401 (UH401), 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL.

This Summit brings together some of the Web’s most notable experts in accessibility for an all-new, all-day online conference.  This event normally costs $179 per person but will be available for free on the UIC campus. Come for just the sessions that you are interested in or stay the whole day!

To ensure that the meeting room is large enough, RSVP to Kevin Price ( indicating when you expect to attend.  Even if you forget to reply, you’re still welcome to attend.

Here is more information about the Accessibility Summit from UIC:

About The Accessibility Summit

Creating an open, accessible web is just best practice. With flexible content delivery and usable applications that benefit all of us, the truly Accessible Web is available to everyone all the time, regardless of ability. Spend some time with the Accessibility experts and find the inspiration and practical knowledge you need to make your Web presence truly universal:

8:00 am – Christopher Schmitt presents “Accessibility & HTML5”
9:00 am – Aaron Gustafson presents “Progressive Enhancement with ARIA”
10:00 am – Jared Smith presents “Accessibility & Compatibility”
11:00 pm – Marla Erwin presents “Accessible CSS”
12:00 pm – LUNCH BREAK
12:30 pm – Glenda Sims presents “Practical Accessibility Testing”
1:30 pm – Daniel Hubbell presents “Future Trends in Accessibility”
2:30 pm – Derek Featherstone presents “Mobile Accessibility”
3:30 pm – Matt May presents “Is Universal Design Still Possible?”

For more information about the speakers, see the following URL:

Accessibility Summit: