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MAG Guide Vol. 13

Captioning and description for the Web
There are an estimated 36 million people with sensory disabilities in the United States--a population in which computer use is high, especially among those who are deaf or hard of hearing. For the nation's 24 million people with hearing disabilities, and a growing number of people with visual disabilities, text-based Internet resources are quite useful. However, given the growing incidence of audio and video clips on Web sites, special efforts are needed to ensure that everyone can fully access online information. While there are challenges to serving this large popu-lation, the benefits for Web site users, owners and developers are significant.

By adding captions, subtitles and audio descriptions to Web-based media, multimedia specialists, publishing companies and service providers can give full access to millions of people with hearing or visual disabilities, as well as to non-English speakers. Captions and subtitles can support the growing number of audible Web features, while audio descriptions provide access for people who are blind or visually impaired by adding descriptive narration about the on-screen visuals--including graphics and text. Descriptions also can assist students with learning disabilities by reinforcing through audio what the user is watching on the screen.

The commitment to making Web sites accessible is vitally important, as the provision of full access to information and resources creates a valuable connection to people with disabilities, as well as their families and friends. Once a Web site is accessible, its owners can significantly increase their audience by promoting the access features on the Web site, by alerting national and local organizations that represent constituents with sensory disabilities, and by contacting the appropriate schools and community groups (see resource list).

Guidance and tools for making your Web site accessible Computer users who are blind or have low vision can access text-based information via screen-reading software. Graphics and other images should include alternative text (alt-text) tags, which identify or briefly describe each image. Alt-text tags also can be utilized by non-disabled users who opt to turn off their browser's image-loading features to allow for faster content download.

Media Access Generator (MAGpie)
Web-based video and audio clips can now be made accessible to users who are disabled and non-English
speakers with a complimentary captioning/subtitling and description software tool--callled MAGpie--developed by the Media Access Group at WGBH. User-friendly for educators, young users and those new to multimedia, MAGpie allows authors to add captions, subtitles and audio descriptions to the three most popular digital multimedia formats:

  • Apple's QuickTime Player
  • RealNetworks' RealPlayer
  • Microsoft's Windows Media Player

For additional information about MAGpie's features and capabilities, and to download the free software, visit

Other resources from the Media Access Group at WGBH

Samples of accessible multimedia delivered in various formats, as well as source code and tutorials,
are available from the Media Access Group's Rich Media Access project at Additional information on making Web sites and software accessible--including general captioning conventions and audio description guidelines--are available from the Media Access Group's Making Educational Software and Web Sites Accessible: Design Guidelines Including Math and Science Solutions, available online at

For a print version of this document, call 617.300.3400 or e-mail your request to

The technology involved in making online and other media more accessible to people with sensory impairments continues to evolve at a rapid rate. The Media Access Group is at the forefront of this evolution--developing the best approaches and technology for making media more accessible. With experience in providing captions and descriptions for Web-based media, CD- and DVD-ROM materials and other new forms of media, we can assist producers in making any production more accessible. In addition, we can prepare captions for the most popular forms of streaming video--including Windows Media, QuickTime and RealMedia--and can add alternate description tracks to most forms of digital media. The precise approach and best tools will vary by he project and presentation format.

To learn more about the access services we provide to both consumers and professional Web site and/or
media producers, contact the Media Access Group at WGBH:

*125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
617.300.3600 voice/TTY
617.300.1020 fax e-mail Web

*300 E. Magnolia Boulevard
2nd Floor
Burbank, CA 91502
818.562.3344 voice
818.562.3388 fax

*545 Fifth Avenue
Suite 609
New York, NY 10017
212.490.3677 voice
212.490.3688 fax

Additional resources

For more information and guidance in making Web sites accessible, visit the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Access Initiative (W3C/WAI) site, The W3C/WAI also makes education, training and outreach materials available at

Publicizing Web access features to the disabled community

Once your team has created a site that is accessible, let the community know by getting the word out to these national organizations, many of which have extensive communications networks
and active chapters in cities and towns across the country.

Organizations representing consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell),

  • American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC),

  • Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA),

  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD),

  • Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH),

  • Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. (TDI),

Organizations representing consumers who are blind or visually impaired:

  • American Council of the Blind (ACB),

  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB),

  • National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI),

Caption Services Description Services NCAM