youtube's automatic captions

YouTube’s Automatic Captions Prove Insufficient for ADA Compliance

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about YouTube’s automatic captions lately, whether it be from viewers making fun of them, content creators complaining about them, or the deaf and hard of hearing calling out their poor quality. Whatever is being said, most of the time it is not positive. That’s because YouTube’s automatic captions are a complete failure (unless you are aiming for comedy). They’re frustrating to those who rely on closed captioning and they’re embarrassing for respected content creators that are unaware they are providing insufficient accommodation to their deaf and hard of hearing audience. In this Whiteboard Wednesday see examples of how difficult it is to understand YouTube automatic captions, and learn how to remove them in order to replace them with your own quality captions.

Video Transcript:

Hi, this is Courtney with Automatic Sync and in this Whiteboard Wednesday we will discuss YouTube’s automatic captioning feature, and how to disable it to avoid embarrassing captioning quality problems.

YouTube introduced their “auto-caps” in 2009 in an effort to to make more of their content accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.  Even if you haven’t noticed the automatic captions before, chances are a lot of videos you’ve watched have them. With any new content that is uploaded to YouTube captions are automatically generated and will be visible unless the content creator turns them off or replaces them with their own caption file.

To view them, just click on the CC button here.

When it comes to YouTube’s automatic captions, the main concern is quality. Although speech recognition as we know it has been around since the 1990s, the technology has not yet reached anything near 100% accuracy.

Since the intelligibility of captioning drops dramatically at even a 2% error rate, most of the time YouTube’s computer generated captions are incomprehensible.  In fact, the automatic captions are sometimes so wrong that they have become a comedic internet sensation, leading to the creation of the hashtag #captionfail.

For the hearing the captions can be entertaining, but for the deaf they are often frustrating. Imagine really trying to learn something from an educational video, but it looks like this.

youtube auto caps example 1

“social media and serotonin in the brain and allows us to go ashore fixations and”

youtube auto caps example 2

“tour guide sleeping draw the Sharks in”

youtube auto caps example 3

“mile relies on his data but he’s convinced the waffles are caused by the”

It’s likely that you were unable to guess what is really being said. Here they are again with accurate captions.

“Social validation increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and allows us to let go of emotional fixations.”

“The tour guides lay bait to draw the sharks in.”

“Mayor relies on his data and is convinced the wobbles are caused by…”

To prevent these sometimes embarrassing automatic captions from being displayed on your videos, go into your YouTube channel’s video manager, click on the video you want to remove them from, and click subtitles and CC. Select the auto-caps and click “actions”… “delete”

Adding your own caption file is easy in the video manager. Click Add new subtitles or CC and choose a language. If you have a .srt or .sbv caption file, you can choose “Upload a File”, find the file then click “Upload.”

Through Automatic Sync there is also the ability to have your caption file automatically pushed to YouTube once the file is created in CaptionSync.

Unfortunately many of YouTube’s video creators are unaware of how the automatic captions affect those who rely on them. It’s easy to think that providing your own accurate captions, which take time and money, is unnecessary because the ones provided by YouTube are good enough. However, recently word has been spreading through young YouTube activists that captioning your own videos is the right thing to do.

We encourage all our customers to provide their own captions on YouTube, allowing the deaf and hard of hearing to have equal access to all videos.

How to delete YouTube’s Automatic Captions

  1. Login to your YouTube account and go to your Video Manager
  2. Find the video you would like to remove the captions from and click “edit”
  3. Click on “Subtitles and CC” on the top right side of the page
  4. Select the automatic captions. It should say “English (Automatic)”
  5. Click on the “Actions” dropdown, then “unpublish” or “delete”

How to add your own caption file to YouTube

  1. Login to your YouTube account and go to your Video Manager
  2. Find the video you would like to add captions to and click “edit”
  3. Click on “Subtitles and CC” towards the top right side of the page
  4. Click on “Add new subtitles or CC”
  5. Choose a language
  6. Click “Upload a file” then “Choose file” and find your .srt, .sbv or other accepted format of caption file you want to add.
  7. Finally, choose “Upload” and “Publish” your new captions

Helpful Links:



  1. I just finished captioning someones one minute video for them and it took a half hour! But I still enjoy knowing that I helped so many who rely on it; I have seen many #captionfails myself! The video is here: (as far as I know the creator of the video hasn’t reviewed or posted my captions yet, but this is the video I had to caption. It was quite easy because pretty much everything was already on the screen…)

    • Hi, I just read where you were able to get the cc for a video. My question is isn’t there a simple way to get YouTube cc? I’ve had this smart TV for awhile but it rarely if ever is captioned! I am not computer literate and using my phone for everything!

      • Greatly, I am disappointed to see that some of You Tube movies including “My Left Foot” full movie(1989) still are not captioning for the deaf as it still violates ADA-ADAA compliance protecting our equal rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans as it’s not fair for our deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans in my serious concerns. Remainder that I am the NAD(National Association of the Deaf) since my joint on June 1982 following my college graduation with my B.A. in double-majors of Biology and Chemistry from Gallaudet University, Washington,D.C. with Class of 1981 on Monday May 18, 1981. Christa D’Auria

  2. Since we published this post about a year ago YouTube has changed several aspects of their automatic captions. While the quality of YouTube’s auto-captions has gotten better in some cases, they are still not good enough to be considered equal access under the ADA. Confusing matters further, YouTube has changed the format of the captions in a way that makes it less obvious that they are machine-generated. Instead of indicating auto-captions with ((( and ))) around the captions, as shown above, the captions now roll on to the screen line by line, in the style often used for live television captioning. Another clue that you are viewing automatically generated “craptions” (as they are often called), is that there is no punctuation in the captions.

    Individuals and companies that post videos on YouTube should be aware of these problems. If you are posting videos to YouTube, you should always create and upload real, high-quality captions, or have a captioning service provider do it for you. It’s not just the law, it’s the right thing to do.

  3. The whole premise of this appears to be a bit off-base. Automatic Sync Tech knows there is not objective threshold that must be upheld (no law that states for streaming video compliance with ADA, captions must be 98% accurate, for example). There are FCC laws for broadcast content, and there have been recent legal battles with Netflix and Harvard — but the statement that “YouTube is not accurate enough to comply with ADA”, especially as of the date this comment is written, is simply untrue. ADA asks that you make streaming media available with captioning and that you make it “accurate”; subjective as it may be. Would love to see a link to a law that states otherwise and I’m happy to stand corrected.

    • Kyle, Thanks for your comments. You make a couple of valid points: a) The ADA and its associated guidelines don’t specify a required accuracy threshold, and b) the term “accurate” is subjective.

      Rather than provide a specific accuracy threshold, the DOJ and the OCR have consistently pointed out that the goal of the ADA is to ensure that communication with people with disabilities is “equally effective” when compared with communication with people without disabilities (see for example: In the case of video, the captions are key to your communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. If your captions have errors like the examples shown in the article, they are clearly not equally effective communication. In fact, even a small number of errors of the type generated by speech recognition (including for example lack of punctuation) will decrease the effectiveness of your captions as a communication channel. So, the premise of the article is still true, even today. While speech recognition continues to improve, it still does not consistently deliver captioning results that could be considered equally effective compared with the communication found in the audio channel.

      We’re not trying to criticize Google, IBM, and others for their efforts to leverage speech recognition for captioning. I worked in the speech recognition field for many years, and I know there are a lot of good people working on this challenge. However, until ASR results are as good as (or better than) a transcript produced by a trained human, then they cannot be considered compliant under the ADA, because they don’t meet that goal of being equally effective communication.

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