508 Compliance, Captioning and Foreign Language

In producing many videos for the State of Minnesota and large corporations, we’ve encountered a growing need to create captions, language versions and other compliance requirements for the videos we create.


Specifically, many productions are required to be 508 compliant in order to allow people with disabilities to access video content.

Here are a few technical terms, requirements and cost considerations to become familiar with in making your videos 508 compliant and available to non-English speaking audiences.

Creating captions for video content is becoming more and more common.  They are relatively inexpensive and can help with search engine optimization as well as compliance.  To start the captioning process, we will usually conform our final script to the final, approved video.  This simply means making sure the script matches the final video.

There is a difference between subtitles and captions.  Subtitles assume the audience can hear the audio but may need an alternative, text version of the dialogue.  On the other hand, captions can include all of the dialogue and voice over, plus a description of the music and other relevant parts of the soundtrack.  For example, a caption could include “soft music” or “birds chirping.”

With the complete script text, we can create .srt files.  SRT files contain subtitles text, format and timing information.  Many video editing and DVD authoring software programs can use these files to generate a subtitle stream.  SRT files can also be added to YouTube videos.  YouTube has an way to automatically caption content, but the results can be unuseable and require manual editing. By using an SRT file, you can be sure the correct words are in the subtitle stream.

Open captioning means the captions are always on or viewable.  Closed captions means the viewer needs to click on “CC” or “Closed Captions” button to turn captions on.

Many times our clients will need their video available in different languages for non-English speaking audiences.  There are a few ways to do this:

  • Captions only. The foreign language is only available in captions.  The rest of the video is in English.  This is usually the cheapest option.

  • Captions and Graphics translated. Captions are translated along with the graphics that appear on screen.  This is more expensive than captions only.

  • Voice and graphics translated. In this case we have the script read by a native speaker of the chosen language.  If this option is chosen, almost all languages will require some re-editing because the foreign language can take 15 -25% longer to read, which can affect the timing.  Other times, the voice over can be read quickly and timed to the English version.  With this option, clients usually want the onscreen graphics translated as well.

To do our foreign translation work, we will source a translation company that can give us three column translated scripts, with English, language version and graphics column translated.  Also, not all language translations cost the same. While Spanish and French are affordable, less common languages can be expensive to translate and voice.

In order to make videos compliant and understandable to audiences that may be hearing or visually disabled, we are often required to create audio description enabled versions of our videos.  This is basically an audio track that briefly describes what is visually happening on screen.  Many times we can sneak this into the video without re-editing, but depending on the complexity of the descriptions, some editing may be required, lengthening the process and increasing the cost.

These are a few options and terms to consider when making your video compliant for non-English speaking as well as hearing or visually impaired audiences.  Many of these options can be quite costly, leaving less of the total budget for creative, actors or complex graphic treatments.

At Mastcom, we’re happy to help you sort through and price all of these different options for you to consider.

Tim has been in the media production industry since his days as a U.S. Navy shipboard news anchor in the 1980s. Tim has a BA in Visual Communication from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He has been President of Mastcom since 2002.