When combined with the latest accessibility features built into iOS and OS X, accessible content creates a powerful platform for empowering people with all levels of ability by giving us equitable access to information, services and learning. In this post, I will discuss two new (at least to me) options for creating accessible content: the addition of captioning support in Vimeo, and the YouDescribe service for creating audio described YouTube videos.

Vimeo and captions

Vimeo recently announced that it has added support for captions. This is great news because Vimeo and YouTube are the two most popular platforms for sharing online videos. I have found the quality of the uploaded video to be superior on Vimeo, and now that captions are supported I will use the site to upload many of my “human interest” videos to the site. I will continue to use YouTube for my video tutorials, where the quality of the compressed video is not as important and I have a lot more storage and more flexible time limits.

To add to the great news, you don’t have to do too much additional work to add captions to their Vimeo videos. If you have been following my video tutorials on the use of MovieCaptioner to caption QuickTime videos, then you’ve done most of the work already. From MovieCaptioner, you can easily export a caption file for YouTube by selecting Export > YouTube Captions. This will create an .SRT file you can then upload alongside your YouTube video to create a captioned version. The same file format is supported by Vimeo, so you only have to create the captions in MovieCaptioner once and then you can create captioned versions of your video on both services.  Vimeo has created a help page with more information about the captioning support.

Now, all is not perfect. The captions can be enabled on the desktop player and on Moible Safari, but not in the Vimeo app for iOS devices. It really would be nice for the Vimeo app to support the built-in captioning support in iOS 7, which even supports styles for adjusting the appearance of the captions. I suspect this oversight will be corrected soon.


YouDescribe is a new effort from Smith-Kettlewell (with support from a Department of Education grant) that provides an online tool for adding audio descriptions to YouTube videos. These audio descriptions are useful to those who are blind by describing the action in the video that would not be perceptible without sight.

The service is currently free and it is very easy to use. You basically stop at the point in the video where you want to add the audio description and then record your audio using browser controls. To give you an idea of what this looks like, I have used the service to add audio descriptions to my One Best Thing Video. You can then share the audio described version of the video on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. One aspect that I like about this service is that you do not have to upload your YouTube video a second time to YouDescribe. It uses your existing YouTube video and then overlays the audio descriptions on top of it.

As with Vimeo, there is a catch. The YouDescribe version of the video only works on the desktop. You can’t currently play the video on Mobile Safari.

As you can see these are not perfect solutions by any means. However, just the fact that efforts are underway to expand support for captions in online videos and to make audio descriptions easier is a good step in the right direction. It took Vimeo a long time to get captions supported in their player. Let’s hope that the service is serious about captions and will continue to improve the support to include the iOS app. As for YouDescribe, there are currently other ways of creating audio descriptions (I myself use a text file and the built-in accessibility feature on OS X that allows you to export the text to an audio file), but having authoring tools will make the practice more widespread. My hope is that YouDescribe is just the tip of the iceberg in this area and that in the future we will see other tools for audio descriptions in development.

2 thoughts on “Two new options for creating accessible video content

  1. Luiz, great post. I would add that not only do we need tools to create accessible video content, but also discover it. Schema.org recently added accessibility properties, which enables webmasters to tag videos and other types of media based on their accessibility features. Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) indexes those properties and you can try this out here: http://www.google.com/cse?cx=001043429226464649088:s0bmhsefbzq . We need to evangelize with content creators and tool developers to use this tagging and I’m also hoping Google will enhance their closed-caption filter on video search to go beyond the YouTube domain. You can learn more Schema.org accessibility properties at http://a11ymetadata.org.

    Finally, I just did a presentation on the use of annotation for accessibility in which I specifically gave a demo of YouDescribe as a reference implementation: http://www.slideshare.net/gcapiel/i-annotate-prez-2014

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