YouTube Makes Captioning More Accessible for Deaf Viewers

By Maura Judkis
Posted at 09:46 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Millions of people enjoy viral videos each day, but some people aren’t getting the jokes — and it’s not for a lack of humor, either. Because many videos on YouTube do not include closed captioning, deaf viewers can be left out. But thanks to a new change at YouTube, more hard-of-hearing people will be able to indulge in the wealth of online videos.

Google Inc.’s YouTube video-sharing Web site is displayed on a computer monitor in Tokyo, on Thursday, April 9, 2009. (Tomohiro Ohsumi – Bloomber News)

The video sharing site enabled caption support in 2006, but it announced Tuesday options that make user-uploaded videos more accessible for those who rely on closed captioning, with new languages, search options, and settings for video text.

YouTube now supports automatic captions in Japanese, Korean and English, and captions can be added in 155 languages and dialects. New settings can also change the caption color — not an aesthetic choice, but rather, to make the captions easier to read against the background of videos where the colors may blend in. Videos uploaded with broadcast caption support, which positions text near the character speaking, are now visible on YouTube in the same format. It’s also easier to upload videos that already have captions embedded in them.

Though television stations are required to provide closed captioning for deaf and hearing-impaired viewers, internet TV was not — until recently. Explains Melissa Bell:

Last year, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, requiring that captioned television shows must be captioned online. But there’s a loophole: The law does not require original online programming to be captioned.

“At the same time that the web series industry is growing, web series producers are not required to closed caption,” Jamie Berke, a Washington-based deaf activist wrote in an e-mail. “So deaf and hard of hearing people like myself are largely left out of this ‘new television.’ ”

As a host of original programming, YouTube’s improved captioning isn’t mandated by the CVAA either, but it’s to their advantage to make videos available for as many viewers as possible. Deaf viewers have found YouTube to be an adept communications tool for sign language — check out some of the viral music videos of pop music sign-language performances, like Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” — but with these new tools, their playlists will get a lot longer.

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