Guest post by Lily Lipman

We’ve all had that moment. You’re sitting in a Zoom reunion or meeting for work and you can’t understand what the other person is saying. I have that moment truly all the time which is why I need to actually see the words people say. I find captions, text versions of speech, incredibly helpful. 

There are many different options for putting text into video content. Here are some of the different types of visual-auditory information:

Closed captioning: 

Closed captioning offers viewers the option to turn captions on or off.

Open captions: 

Open captions are burned into the video, so there isn’t an option to turn the captioning off. Open captions make your video’s captions supported by all video players because it’s simply part of the video. There’s also less disparity between how different technology plays the captions. It gives you as the content creator all of the power (cue maniacal laughter)! 

*both types of captions should include information such as sound effects or any auditory information you may need to understand the material. In some instances, captions are required by law.


Subtitles were traditionally intended to open up viewing to other audiences that might not understand the language that is in the pre-recorded material. It’s the reason I’m able to watch movies like Amelie without relying on my nonexistent french. Audiences that may not be able to hear any of the audio may want additional information, like the noise of a door opening, to be included, but subtitles wouldn’t necessarily have that.

Real-Time Captioning:

This is captioning that is happening as someone is speaking. This can mean that someone is listening to what people say and typing out what they hear or it could be automatic technology that dictates what people are saying. You can see this in either a transcript format or as words on your screen while someone is talking.

There are so many choices when it comes to how to make your content accessible. What I need or want may be totally different from what others need. For example, I have an auditory processing disorder which impacts how my brain understands auditory information. I turn on subtitles whenever I watch movies and I find captioning incredibly helpful. I often ask folks to use Google Meet when they talk with me. I find that there’s less of a lag time in Google Meet because they use technology to automatically caption, rather than hiring someone who types out what they hear. Therefore, I have an easier time understanding what they say because if I miss a few words I can instantly look at the captions and pick up what I’ve missed. I have friends who are hard of hearing or Deaf who prefer CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation, one of the companies that hires out transcriptionists to type out what they hear). They find when a trained transcriber types out what they hear it’s way more accurate than automatic captions. My roommate has ADD and finds captions at the bottom of their screen too distracting. 

Just because there’s no universally correct way to go about adding captioning during online video meetings and webinars, doesn’t mean you should give up on it. When I go into a meeting, rehearsal, class, or friend get-together and I see that they’ve set up captioning it makes me feel so loved and cared for. When someone puts the time in to figure out captioning it tells me that my input is valued and makes me feel more comfortable participating or concentrating on the information. Captioning doesn’t just help me as someone with an auditory processing disability, it can help folks who aren’t familiar with English as a first language or who have impaired hearing. Captions may help people in a noisy background, who aren’t able to see or hear and are using a screen reader to engage in the material, who have bad speakers, and the list goes on. 

The moral of the story is that there’s no way to make everything 100% accessible, but finding ways to caption and understanding the differences in captioning technology can open up so much material for many different people. It may also mean that you can receive more information than you ever thought possible! 

I strongly encourage folks to invest their time, energy, and money into making sure that your content is available for all kinds of people to engage with. If you have questions, reach out to my amazing Aunt (, contact me (, reach out to your community and audience, and see what they need. Let’s work together and find solutions to effectively communicate. 

We also have the power to demand changes in the platforms we get our content from. For example, Zoom initially didn’t offer any automatic captioning service. You had to pay a third-party service or assign a participant to type everything. Eventually, they enabled auto-captioning but only for paid accounts. Paywalls have consistently been used to limit access for folks who may have limited funds. Even within those premium accounts, captions aren’t enabled for breakout rooms. After many months of people requesting that Zoom make that technology available for everyone, Zoom’s announced plans to do so but hasn’t made that change yet. Instagram doesn’t enable automated captioning on their app and you need to download all kinds of third-party apps to enable captioning. By reaching out to these companies and advocating that they do more to support the needs of everyone utilizing their content or platforms, we can make online content more accessible. 

Interested in learning more? Figuring out the free as well as paid options on your own may be daunting. My Aunt Joan is considering creating a webinar or online self-paced short course to help you explore this topic at a deeper level. Are you curious about using the captioning feature in YouTube or exploring tools such as and Want to be shown how to use different types of captioning and subtitle features already included with online meeting platforms such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom as well as when using presentation tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides? 

Head over to to register for the next free webinar in my Aunt Joan’s series. We will be presenting information together on April 15th, 2021 at 1:00 PM EST. Busy at that time? No worries! Go ahead and register anyway. She always records the webinars for all to view for free after the live event. After about a week, all recordings are archived and available to view, along with the handouts, for a small fee. The link to prior recordings can also be found at