Auto captions come to Chrome

A cartoon of a person slumped with their head on a laptop Live captioning is now available to everyone using a Google Chrome browser.

This is great news, as one of the requirements of the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, is that video content is captioned.

The reasons for this are clear and few would argue against the need. Beyond this, we also know that captioning content improves engagement and makes video content accessible in terms of permanent, temporary and situational impairments, such as watching in a crowded train (if you remember that) or a quiet library.

A disproportionate burden?

Despite this need, with thousands of hours of content in back-catalogues and hundreds of hours added on a weekly basis many public sector and higher education institutions bound by the regulations are, understandably, claiming captioning this content represents a disproportionate burden.

Most, however, are focusing on ensuring that any new content complies with the regulation, and the back catalogue remains inaccessible to many, or worse, has been removed for fear of falling foul of the regulations (very much not what the regulations were designed to do).

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Other auto-caption options

Platforms such as YouTube offer auto captioning, generating the closed captions when videos are uploaded.

The same is true with Microsoft's Stream, which will generate an interactive transcript (so you can 'jump' to the point in the video by clicking the corresponding text), but both these options rely on the platform that the videos are held on and both process the video after it has been uploaded, so won't work for things like podcasts or live events.

Back in August 2020, we wrote about live captioning becoming available on some Android smartphones. The technology described listens out for any audio and provides a text transcription on the screen. Now Google has added this feature to its Chrome browser.

You can find the feature in your Chrome browser under "Settings" > "Advanced" > "Accessibility" and it appears at the top of the list as "Live Caption" with a switch to toggle the service on and off:Screenshot of the captions option in the Chrome browser

You can also set your preferences for the appearance of the captions:

Screenshot of captions running on a live podcast

Once switched on, the live captions will display as soon as the browser pics up any audio content and can be switched off on-screen using the ‘X’ in the corner of the window, which you might want to do if the content already has captions. Captions will pop up again if you refresh the page or navigate to a new page with audio.

Auto-captions are not a shortcut to compliance

Auto captions on Chrome is a huge step forward and a significant move towards making the web accessible to all, giving an option where previously there was none. It may also provide some breathing room for public sector organisations and institutions keen to keep content online but struggling to work their way through their back-catalogue.

Whilst auto captioning is an incredible feature that makes more content available to more people by default, for free, and without requiring any specialist software to be installed, remember it is not a shortcut to compliance and you will still need to ensure that your content is captioned.

It is also an automated tool and therefore despite some impressive speed and accuracy, it is still subject to error and, as with all captioning, human or machine-based, inaccurate captioning will not provide a comparable experience to anyone unable to hear content - the very reason the regulations were put in place.

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Further resources