Quality captioning in Storyline 360 — Part 1

Captions are for everyone

Captioning is the process of converting the audio content of a television broadcast, webcast, film, video, CD-ROM, DVD, live event, or other production into text and displaying the text on a screen or monitor. Captions not only display words as the textual equivalent of spoken dialogue or narration, but they also include speaker identification, sound effects, and music description. Captioning is critical for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it also aids the reading and literacy skills development of many others
The Described and Captioned Media Program

I work at an organization that advocates for inclusive design in all areas of society. It’s important to lead by example and so I strive for maximum accessibility in all our learning tools. I’ve led us to adopting high standards for closed captions, based mainly on the Described Media and Captioning Program (DCMP) captioning key, with some variations suggested by the Canadian Hearing Society’s Barrier Free Education Initiative and The Canadian Association of Broadcasters CC Standards and Protocol… August 2012 (PDF).

This post will be in three parts. Part 1 provides background. Part 2 will provide CSS code that approximates DCMP presentation guidelines for use in Articulate Storyline 360, and I’ll show you where you to put that code in AS360’s program templates folder so your quality captions appear automatically when you preview or publish a learning module using the AS360 desktop application, and Part 3 will present a tutorial on creating quality captions tuned to the DCMP’s guidelines using the free, open source editor Subtitle Edit,

A basic principle of inclusive design is designing for outliers. The Inclusive Design Research Centre says, “…Inclusive design should trigger a virtuous cycle of inclusion, leverage the ‘curb-cut effect’, and recognize the interconnectedness of users and systems.” The ‘curb-cut effect’ refers to the sloped cuts in the curb at intersections that were originally put in place for people in wheelchairs and that probably all of us sooner or later come to value.

And so it can be with closed captions — designed for the hearing impaired, they’re useful to anyone in a setting where for any reason it’s too hard to hear or, conversely, one wishes to enjoy video content but not to be heard. Presented also as “subtitles”, captioning is often vital to language learners and all those wishing to expand markets or impact diverse demographics.

The DCMP has studied this topic for over 20 years and more than anyone I can think of understands how the ‘curb-cut effect’ applies in this context. Perhaps the outliers among outliers are those with cognitive disabilities. To meet the needs of everyone quality captions contain each of the following elements. Quality captions are accurate—word-for-word, except in very specific circumstances I’ll discuss later—consistent, i.e., uniform in style and presentation, clear, representing the audio completely, identifying speakers and non-speech information, to provide clarity. They must be readable: displayed with enough time to be read completely, in sync with the audio, and neither obscured by nor obscuring the visual content. Equal access considers learners’ cognitive diversity, requiring that the meaning and intention of the material are completely preserved, not only in ways that benefit the hearing impaired.

Nonetheless, as with all forms of communication, one must always consider the audience. As an infamous (and fictitious) pirate of the Caribbean once said about a much different code, the finer details of quality captioning remain “…more what you’d call ‘guidelines‘ than actual rules” (Captain Jack Sparrow). In Part 2 I’ll summarize some key points I try to maintain in every case, discuss some instances where I might consider bending the rules, and describe some situations where one clearly must improvise. I’ll translate all that into a snippet of CSS code that works with the elearning software I use, Articulate Storyline 360 (AS360), and show you one way to make it work in AS360 so it’s applied in both previewed and published slides and persists between publications.

See you soon.

Part 2–>


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