Add Subtitles & Captions and Make Your Videos More Accessible

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Captions appeared on television for the first time in 1972 with the airing of Julia Child's “The French Chef.” Twenty six years later, the FCC required all video programming distributors to provide the deaf and hard-of-hearing with access to closed captioning. 

Over the past four decades, captioning and subtitles have spread beyond television programming and cinema and into spaces like retail, travel, healthcare, education, podcasting, and even social media. Accessibility is only part of the reason. 

Today, the vast majority of Americans—92%, according to one recent study—watch internet videos with the sound off.  That means that adding captions to videos is not only essential for creating accessible content for the hearing-impaired, but for reaching an audience at all. Adding captions is especially important for creators in these three areas: 

  • Social media. Adding captions to your videos for social media significantly boosts watch time. Because Facebook videos and Instagram videos are first played on mute, adding captions allows for more content engagement. 
  • Film. Adding captions and subtitles to films allows people to fully comprehend and engage with a movie. It's important to note that a large portion of the population uses captions and subtitles while viewing movies even if they are not hard-of-hearing. 
  • Higher education. Enrollment in online classes reached all-time highs starting in early 2020. Adding captions to educational content gives all students the ability to access higher education, flexible learning solutions and to assist with focusing. 


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What is a video caption?  

Video captions are lines of text shown on screen that convey the video’s audio content. There are two types of video captioning: closed captions and open captions. 

  • Closed captions give the viewer the ability to turn the captions on and off at any time during the program. 
  • Open captions are permanently embedded in the video, meaning you cannot turn them off. 

Other audio indicators like music and motion, known as sound text, are also included in captions. 

Video subtitle vs. video caption  

Subtitles are captions that provide a translation if the program is to be made available in other languages and countries. While the use case might be different, for creators’ purposes, video captions and subtitles are the same thing. 

Should you use a media platform’s automated caption feature? 

Most media platforms provide captioning, however their transcriptions aren’t always accurate. Have you ever watched a video and noticed the captions did not match what the person was saying? This probably means the creator used a media platform’s automated caption feature. 

Another important thing to know: Automated captions do not get indexed by Google or YouTube for discoverability via search. This means you have to manually add captions to your videos if you want search engines to recognize them. When captions are indexed, videos become searchable by the key terms used in your video captions. That makes your content appear in searches. 

How to add captions/subtitles to video using Descript

Pretty much any video editing software enables you to add captions. We’re going to tell you how to do it in Descript because a) we think it’s the best, and b) this is our blog, so duh.  

Descript’s automatic transcription and Fancy Captions feature allow you to add open captions to your videos in seconds.

Before you apply Fancy Cations decide if you want to add captions to your entire video, or only a portion. 

To add captions to your entire video

  • If you want to add text to your entire video, select all of the text using the keyboard shortcut Command + A for MacOS and Ctrl + A for Windows or simply click on “Edit—Select All.” 
  • Return to the toolbar, click the (+) button, and locate the Fancy Captions option in the dialogue box. You can also use Command + K to use the Conductor, then type Fancy Captions in the search box. 
  • Once selected, Fancy Captions will automatically apply transcription to your video.

You will notice a Fancy Captions icon—a T in a purple box—at the beginning of your transcription. This indicates where your caption begins, which you will see as a separate track on your timeline.

To add captions to your a portion of your video

What if your current project only requires particular sections captioned or subtitled? The best way to do this is by using your Fancy Captions track (the purple line). You can simply adjust the length by either extending or shortening your caption track:

  • To move your captions click the Fancy Captions track and drag it left or right. 
  • To extend your caption track simply click the end or beginning of the Fancy Captions track and drag it left or right.

Tip: You can use both the transcription and the timeline to insert captions. Just click the beginning of the timeline or the beginning of your transcription before selecting Fancy Captions.

Adjusting caption settings

Descript gives you the option to adjust your captions for font size, type, colors, and placement. You can do this by right clicking on the Fancy Captions icon and selecting “show properties” or right clicking on your Fancy Captions track and selecting “show clip properties.

Exporting your captioned video file 

After your captions have been added and you want to upload a file, you can do this in a few ways by exporting:

  • A Word document 
  • A subtitle file called and srt file 
  • An audio file (.wav)
  • A video file (.mp4)
  • A gif file (.mp4)

Here ‘s how to export your files: 

  • In the top right corner click the Share button and select Export. 
  • Choose the File option, check for formatting options and click Export. 
  • Descript will ask you where you want your file to be saved; then click Save. 

The bottom line

Captions are not new, but providing access to content is an important task for creators. From storytelling and education to marketing, video captions have become a necessity. They provide access to the deaf and hard-of hearing-community, reachability on search engines for creators, and overall content engagement for viewers. Descript’s Fancy Captions feature allows you to add captions—and thus expand your reach—in seconds.

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Written by
Written by
Lara Unnerstall

Video Producer at Descript. Filmmaker, writer, and dog weirdo.

Descript is a collaborative audio/video editor that works like a doc. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, and some mind-bendingly useful AI tools.
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Lara Unnerstall

Video Producer at Descript. Filmmaker, writer, and dog weirdo.

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