Zoom Captioning in the Classroom and Beyond 

By: AST Editorial
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When someone says, “video conferencing software,” you probably think of Zoom. It’s listed as a skill requirement in job descriptions, it’s used for virtual classes and so much more. When the world went remote in 2020, telecommuting and distance learning became the norm.

Since Zoom has been the answer for many international teams and online schools, it’s crucial that leaders understand how to make meetings and classes accessible. Especially because inclusivity best practices and the ADA set rigid accessibility standards and expectations for captioning and other accommodations. This is where AST’s Zoom closed captioning service comes in.

Zoom’s boom and the pandemic

When Zoom launched in 2013, 400,000 people signed up in the first month. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in usage. By April 2020, Zoom had 300 million daily meeting participants.

The software has since reached 3.3 trillion annual meeting minutes. It has facilitated over 45 billion webinar minutes. Users downloaded the Zoom app 485 million times in 2020 alone. 

These statistics underscore the importance of Zoom. Considering how many people rely on this platform, it’s critical to think about how to make Zoom accessible. One of the most important solutions is Zoom closed captions.

Does Zoom offer closed captioning?

In short, yes, Zoom automatic closed captioning is an option. However, the auto-generated captions aren’t always accurate. This shortcoming could be problematic when using Zoom live captioning for classes or meetings with attendees from across the globe.

Sometimes Artificial Intelligence fails to correctly caption a name or intended meaning, which could spell some pretty embarrassing errors. Due to the unreliability of automatically generated captions, it’s best to use a third-party closed captioning service for Zoom.

a laptop and mobile phone on a small blue desk with Zoom Captioning

The importance of captioning Zoom classes & meetings

Just as you have the option to watch TV, YouTube or other streaming platforms with captions, classes and meetings held via Zoom must also offer this accommodation. Captions have been a legal requirement for some time, but with the rise in online schooling and remote work, it needs to be a top priority.

Accessibility laws & compliance

An inaccessible website or platform can cause significant issues for users and lead to potential lawsuits. While the ADA doesn’t mention specific web accessibility guidelines, courts have found in favor of plaintiffs alleging websites created violations of the law. 

Since the pandemic, classes and teams have been meeting online at an unprecedented level. Given this, it’s a great time for businesses, universities and other institutions to do an accessibility audit.

The WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – are a good place to start when outlining the current web accessibility standards. Additionally, the WCAG influences global accessibility laws. It’s wise to take a proactive approach rather than risk legal complications.

Supporting students on Zoom

Avoiding lawsuits isn’t the only reason to provide a high level of accessibility. The widespread adoption of online learning plans created a greater need for inclusive environments with enhanced experiences for all students.

Imagine a student who is Deaf joining a class via Zoom, and they can’t follow because there are no captions. This kind of situation should never happen. Ensure your institution supports students through accessibility solutions, like enabling Zoom captions.

Diversity at work

The need for captioning doesn’t come to an end with college graduation. Workplaces are growing increasingly diverse, with team members across the globe. As a result, captions support employees in a variety of ways. Captions don’t just cater to persons with disabilities. This tool is helpful for people with ADHD and individuals with varying learning styles. Also, captions improve non-native speakers’ comprehension of the content.

Conferencing tools have become an almost daily part of the corporate world, and as such, they must be accessible. The right accommodations make it possible for everyone to participate with equity and can improve retention and comprehension for all employees.

screen display with focus on the zoom icon

How to get closed captions on Zoom

There are a few different ways to use closed captions in Zoom. Depending on the reason you’re using captions, your selection might vary.

  1. Manual Captions – The host or an attendee assigned by the host can provide manual captioning by transcribing the event. This option is labor intensive, time-consuming and extremely difficult unless the host has specific training.
  2. Third-party Captioning – Zoom integrates with third-party closed captioning software. You’ll need to copy the Zoom caption URL (API token) into AST’s closed captioning platform.
  3. Auto-generated Captions – Zoom’s automatic closed captioning feature provides live captioning for Zoom. Just toggle the closed caption button in the settings menu.

A note on Zoom’s automatic closed captioning

Zoom has the auto-generated captions option, which is available with a free subscription. However, there are a few issues – namely accuracy.

The auto-generated captions aren’t very good if there’s more than one speaker, if someone has an accent, or if there’s a lot of background noise. Not only does this directly impact the users, but it can also lead to costly legal ramifications. Beyond potential lawsuits and legal issues, awkward mistakes in the captions could harm your institution’s image and reputation.

A prominent example of the possible legal consequences is when Harvard and MIT used auto-generated captions for their online videos. The level of inaccuracy resulted in lawsuits.

This is why it’s generally preferable to use third-party closed captioning software for Zoom.

Benefits of third party closed captioning for Zoom

In order to meet user demands and comply with the updated Rehabilitation Act, institutions and organizations should consider employing a third party closed captioning service for Zoom.

There are benefits to using an outside closed captioning Zoom software versus the auto-generated captions. They include:

  1. Higher Level of Accuracy – A third-party service like AST can offer 99.5%+ accuracy and expert transcribers with topic specializations.
  2. More Accessibility and Customization – AST provides live captioning, post-production transcription, translation and subtitles and CART solutions.
  3. Improved Comprehension and Engagement – High-quality captions support retention and comprehension and enhance audience engagement.

Zoom in higher education

Since 2020, 98% of universities have moved classes online. Zoom has become a go-to solution for virtual classes for numerous post-secondary institutions.

Hundreds of colleges and universities use Zoom for online learning, including Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, the University of North Carolina, Columbia University and Harvard. 

Some students and professors even prefer Zoom as an alternative to in-person education. Here are some of the benefits of this platform and virtual education.

  • Learn or teach from anywhere – Whatever reasons might separate students and teachers, the class can continue.
  • Guest speakers – Professors can invite guests and experts from all over the world, not just in convenient locations.
  • Reduced limitations – Whether it’s due to physical or health needs, attendance is no longer limited to classroom capacity or location.
  • Check-in with students – Regardless of a pandemic, professors can meet privately with their students at any time.

Zoom offers various services and solutions depending on your desired use. It even has a specific Zoom for Education solution, which includes plans for K-12 and post-secondary schools. There are plenty of resources available, as well as hardware for Zoom Rooms and Remote Teaching.

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Accessibility in the Zoom classroom

There are other benefits of using Zoom beyond those related to remote education. Zoom is a powerful tool for creating an accessible, inclusive learning atmosphere.

As post-secondary institutions move toward accessibility compliance, classes and workshops held via Zoom are easy to make accessible. As mentioned, Zoom captioning includes various options for classes, webinars and meetings.

However, besides closed captioning, Zoom offers a range of other accessibility features that allow schools to facilitate an inclusive online learning experience.

Zoom video options

Zoom has three different video options to increase accessibility: 

  1. Multi-spotlight – The host can spotlight a specific individual, like a sign language interpreter, so they remain visible during the whole class.
  2. Multi-pinning – The host and participants can select certain videos and pin them, so they stay in view for the duration of the class.
  3. Rearrange Gallery View – The Zoom host can drag and rearrange the gallery of video tiles to organize them in whatever way they desire.

Accessibility settings in Zoom

Within Zoom, there is an Accessibility menu where you can select the settings you want for your class. You can customize the display, including the font size of the chat and captions. There are shortcuts that enable you to control the class with just the keyboard. There’s even screen reader support which lets you use Zoom to tailor audible announcements with granular control over the screen reader alerts.

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More accessibility features

Zoom does its best to listen to customer feedback and drive inclusivity. As such, it has even more accessibility features that are actually beneficial to more than just those with disabilities,  hearing loss or low vision.

By using AST’s integrations, you can also request live Zoom transcription. Students can access the transcripts as VTT files along with the recorded classes. This feature allows any student to revisit lectures and lessons at any time. Students who want to jump to a specific part of the lecture can also use AST’s searchable Zoom and Webex transcripts to find the relevant section quickly. It’s a great tool to use when studying to increase comprehension, retention and engagement.

Another helpful feature of Zoom is focus mode. This configuration allows the teacher to see the entire class, but the students cannot see each other. There are a variety of applications for this, and it can be especially useful if there are individuals with ADHD or who benefit from limited distractions.

Two other components of Zoom that make it accessible are text formatting and dark mode. Professors can use dark mode and alter the text to accommodate anyone with low vision.

Partnering with AST for Zoom accessibility

Whether you’re using Zoom in the classroom or the workplace, it’s a trusted tool for remote learning and work. It champions accessibility with several features. The Zoom captioning service and its integrations with third-party captioning solutions like AST highlight the platform’s commitment to creating an inclusive virtual environment.

AST is proud to partner with and provide captioning for Zoom. AST helps organizations offer quality accessibility solutions to foster an inclusive learning environment. Contact us to learn more about how our accurate captions, live transcripts, and audio descriptions can enhance the learning experience for your students.