Blog Post

Make Videos Accessible with

Reblogged from The Chronicle of Higher Education at


December 8, 2010, 3:00 pm

By George Williams

Logo for the project


If you create videos to share online, then it’s a good idea to add subtitles so that your audience can include as many different people as possible, including those who don’t understand the original language of the video as well as those with hearing impairment. It’s not terribly difficult to add subtitles, but it is time consuming. I know this because I’ve spent some time transcribing interviews and testing different methods for getting the work done. After experimenting with a paid service for transcribing videos I’ve been working on, I began to think about what it would take to create a tool that would allow people to volunteer their transcription efforts, perhaps just one segment of video (or audio) at a time.

One tool whose development I’ve been very interested in is Scripto, “a light-weight, open source tool that will allow users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects.” Scripto, being developed by the Center for History and New MediaNote: If you donate to support the work of the CHNM the National Endowment for the Humanities will match your donation, essentially doubling your contribution.) (CHNM), is designed for projects where images of written or printed documents need to be transcribed. The potential exists, I believe, for adapting a tool like this for projects involving video or audio rather than–or in addition to–the written word. (

Until that potential is realized, however, there are some other options available. I recently learned about a great project called Universal Subtitles, an open-source tool that brings together volunteers who want to subtitle videos and videos that need subtitles.

The creation of this tool is being undertaken by the Participatory Culture Foundation, “a non-profit organization building free and open tools for more a democratic and decentralized media.” Universal Subtitles is a featured Mozilla Drumbeat project, and they’re currently raising money to get the tool out of beta. (Note: From now until January 1 Mozilla will match your donation to the project.)

Here’s their introductory video:

The idea is pretty simple, as they explain on their site:

You add our widget to your videos. Then you and your viewers can add subtitles, which anyone can watch. We save the subtitles on our site (but you can download them). And each video has its own collaboration space on our site (like a wikipedia article) where people can make improvements, track changes, and give feedback

The protocol/open spec (still in the early stages) will allow clients such as Firefox extensions, desktop video players, websites, or browsers to look up and download matching subtitles from subtitle database(s) . . . Everything will be available under the open source AGPL license.

Each video can have multiple subtitle tracks, each featuring a different language. (Subtitling videos would make a very interesting class project in, for example, a translation class.)

It’s easy to get involved with Universal Subtitles:

For more information

Do you have experience using Universal Subtitles? What are your thoughts? Or do you prefer another method for creating subtitles? Let’s hear from you in the comments!


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