One of the most amazing developments that the internet has brought about since I was an elementary school student is the heightened awareness of accessibility. Captioning is just one example.

If you spend any amount of time on TikTok (or on Facebook or Youtube, where TikToks are compiled for elderly people like myself), you may have noticed that more and more videos include some form of captioning. These are added by the creators themselves, often in white text in a bunch somewhere on the screen, because until very recently TikTok had no auto-captioning feature. It’s an added effort that goes a long way, even on fun nonsense skits about the differences between cat and dog people. 

Captions are one of the most widely recommended accommodations for schools by Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In and out of education, captions provide crucial accessibility to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but they are also extremely beneficial to those with learning disabilities — children and adults. 

A lot of people assume that learning disabilities are things you grow out of over time, but the truth is that they are often things you grow into. Although ADHD is commonly thought of as a childhood disorder people grow out of, it is something that I and many other adults struggle with on a daily basis. It has a massive effect on how we take in auditory and visual media and process information, and captions are one way we are able to counteract that effect. Captions provide an extra element to focus on when sound and images become overwhelming, and a way to catch up if a moment of distraction causes you to miss a crucial word or two. 

When I attended ISTE Live21 in July, I was part of a session called “Accessibility in Google Tools” presented by Frederick Ballew, a Music Specialist, and Emily Thomas, a Technology Integration Analyst & Trainer. Frederick and Emily taught us about many tools and resources that can be used to make content more accessible to all types of learners, be they students in school or teachers continuing education, and in this session I came to two realizations. 

  1. If captions help me to focus and learn, they can do the same for others.
  2. There are so many resources for adding and using captions it’s almost crazy not to. 
captioning options

YouTube Auto-Captioning

One barrier to adding captions to content has always been the time it takes to type and time a transcript, but YouTube’s auto-captioning makes it easier than ever to include this crucial resource. YouTube can use speech recognition technology to generate captions in more than ten languages when videos are uploaded to its platform. As we’ve all watched at least one video where a word was hilariously mistranslated, auto-generated captions are fully editable so that creators can adjust any incorrect transcriptions. 

Live Streaming & Presenting

Presenting a video live? Live captioning — that is, automatically generated captions done in real-time — is available in English for live streaming. And that’s not all! Live captions in English can also be enabled when presenting with Google Slides, and in several languages using Microsoft 365’s PowerPoint. As long as you have a working microphone and a steady internet connection, these programs can transcribe what you say as you give your presentation. 

Live Captions in Chrome

Unfortunately, not all content creators know how or are willing to use captioning tools, but never fear! At the beginning of this year, Google Chrome added a fantastic feature that educators and educational leaders can use and recommend to make almost any audio content accessible. 

As simple as turning on a setting, with no extensions or downloads necessary, Chrome’s Live Caption tool can generate real-time captions for any audio or video played in the Chrome browser. Live captioning works with videos, podcasts, music, video or audio chat tools, and even personal media as long as it’s opened in the browser. Users can change the font, color, size, opacity, and background of their captions. Currently, captions are only available in English. 

You can find more information about turning on Live Captions on a Windows or Apple computer here, and on a Chromebook here

Captions: Not just for TikTok

TikTokers don’t have to add captions to their videos. They choose to, as enlightened YouTubers have done for generations, and they have been rewarded with auto-captioning that will take their accessibility even further. For educators, making sure the resources and content used in daily instruction are accessible to all types of learners is crucial to the success of students. This consideration should extend far beyond the classroom and right back to the educators themselves. 

For educational leaders and those who create resources and content, being more mindful of the learning barriers and struggles that members of a team or audience may experience can build empathy and overcome reluctance towards teamwork or continued learning. The need won’t always be apparent. Adults are much more adept at hiding their difficulties, and it’s embarrassing to admit that you’re having trouble understanding something or focusing, particularly when it seems like the only people around you who share the problem are children. 

So take a page out of TikTok’s lip-synced book. Create a safer, more accessible environment for all kinds of learners by using captions and encouraging the use of captions, both inside the classroom and out.

–About the Author–

Mia Pomales is a Classroom Technology Coach for Vartek Services and a member of the iTeam. Mia has been a school administrator, K-8 teacher, and marketing and technology director since 2013. Over the course of her career, she discovered a strong passion for educational technology. Mia is thrilled to be part of Vartek’s iTeam where she can put that passion to use and help other educators discover and develop their own love of EdTech.

Vartek Services is a professional services company partnering with K12 schools to provide IT Leadership, Implementation, and Technology Integration to enhance the teaching and learning environment.

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