Exploring the use of automated captioning and its impact on disabled students in HE

Automated captioning disabled students' commission
Automated captioning disabled students' commission

Captionme takes a look at the report Exploring the use of automated captioning and its impact on disabled students in HE, published by the Disabled Students’ Commission on 10 February 2022.


The Disabled Students’ Commission (DSC) is an independent strategic group, established by the Universities Minister to advise, inform and influence higher education providers to improve support for disabled students.



A roundtable received contributions from people involved in the requisition and use of automated captioning in a HE setting, addressing the use of automated captioning in HE, and Captionme was interested in how this can affect e-learning modules. 

Automated captioning disabled students' commission



Automated captioning has been used widely during Covid-19, and this has presented an opportunity to make learning more accessible to a range of students who include those who are (but not limited to) students who are d/Deaf or hearing impaired, students with mental health conditions and students with a social and/or communication impairment such as autism.


McNaught and Wilkinson, 2021 discussed guidance for captioning of rich media and outline good practice and approaches for HEPs to support the widespread distribution of automated captions across hundreds, if not thousands of module leads. This was the basis for the study.


“Students and staff in universities have overcome many barriers and obstacles over the last two years. This report, which is based on student feedback, demonstrates that we need to do more to help some of our most vulnerable learners. Good captioning makes a real difference and institutions need to read this and build on good practice.”

Geoff Layer, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission


To expand on the regulatory context, using automated captioning does not meet requirements of Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations (PSBAR) and the regulations state that pre-recorded video is only compliant if captions have been checked and corrected. Automated captions can be part of this process, if they can be edited, but alone do not meet the standard of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA.


Quality and delivery of captions


The vast majority of students felt that the quality of automated captioning was poor (sometimes illegible), meaning that those who currently relied heavily or exclusively on automated captioning were unable to engage with course content properly.


“It felt like trying to decode a puzzle rather than actually understand the content I was engaging with.”


Students across the board experienced delays once captions arrived at the editing stage, in some cases they did not receive a transcript until two or three weeks later. This also added to the existing administrative burden on behalf of disabled students to fight for reasonable adjustments.


“Having the captions is all very well and good, but there is such a delay between, say, a lecture being published and when an accurate caption file is uploaded, it has such a disproportionately high burden on disabled students and puts you so far behind in your course.”


The report found that technical language and terminology wasn’t being captured correctly, especially for subjects with technical language such as medicine.


“We haven’t yet found an automated system that will give us the accuracy we need with the discipline specific language.”

Captionme is the sister company to Accuro, who have over 20 years’ experience in the medical transcription services industry and understand that medical terminology is something that automatic speech recognition software, and by association, automated captioning, finds very difficult to get right.


The report finds that only once edited would the automated captions be of sufficient value to the end user, reporting that “…you would need to export the captions, convert the file and re-upload. The editing interface was often clunky and difficult to navigate.”


Captionme understands that captioning platforms are often poorly developed and not in a state where somebody could just pick it up and go without any formal training. Captionme in partnership with Subly developed an automated captioning platform, that includes a user-friendly, web-based editing suite.



The Disabled Students’ Commission concluded that, at the time of writing, there was no optimal solution for addressing the challenges created by the use of automated captioning (2021). 



Captionme has since launched a ‘fully-checked’ service which uses professional human proofreading across a wide variety of specialisms to deliver a right first time, guaranteed 24-hour service.



“We believe there is a real need to deliver fast and accurate captioning which benefits students across all learning and development programmes” says Matthew Harrison, Director at Captionme



The Disabled Sutdents’ Commission concludes that HEPs should explore solutions to reduce delays in the editing of transcripts and captioning that can alleviate staff workload and take into account equality and diversity factors.



If you are a HEP and require transcription services or automated captioning, or a fully-edited captioning service, Captionme is currently offering a reduced rate to all HEPs. Please get in touch today to find out more.

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