Closed captions aid individuals with hearing difficulties or those watching content in noisy environments, providing a written representation of the audio and dialogue in a film or TV show. It’s important to note that the US Congress requires cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors, and other video programming providers to include closed captions for their TV programs.

In 2014, the FCC received 1600+ complaints about low-quality TV captions, criticized as “inaccurate,” “gibberish,” “butchered,” and “incomprehensible.” In response, the FCC established four principles to improve caption quality: accuracy, synchronicity, program completeness, and correct caption positioning.

The 4 Pillars of FCC Closed Captioning Rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the regulation of all interstate and international communications through various mediums, including radio, television, cable, satellite, and wire services in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories. One of the responsibilities of the FCC is updating media regulations to allow for diversity and localism alongside emerging technologies and leading the defense of the country’s communication infrastructure.

The regulations set by the FCC regarding closed captioning on TV guarantee that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy all programming and ensure that the quality of captions is up to standard, with guidelines for video programming distributors and programmers. These rules apply to all TV programming featuring captions, which must adhere to the following requirements:

  1. Accurate: The captions must be precise by accurately reflecting the spoken words in the dialogue, and they should also depict background sounds and other noises to the greatest extent feasible.
  2. Synchronous: Captions should align with their corresponding spoken words and sounds as closely as possible, and they should be presented on the screen at a pace that is easy to read for the audience.
  3. Complete: Captions must cover the entire program from the start to the end to the greatest extent feasible.
  4. Properly Placed: Captions must be positioned appropriately on the screen without obstructing any important visual content, clashing with one another, or going beyond the video screen’s edges.

The rules differentiate captioning requirements for pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming, considering the additional difficulties of captioning the latter two.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in public settings. The law covers many disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and emotional disabilities. It applies to all state and local government agencies (Title II entities) and businesses and non-profit organizations that serve the public (Title III entities).

The ADA requires Title II and Title III entities to provide “effective communication” to individuals with disabilities. Title II entities include public schools, courts, libraries, parks, and transportation systems. In contrast, Title III entities have businesses like restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and service providers like universities, museums, and hospitals.

The term “effective communication” means that individuals with disabilities must be able to access the same information and services as people without disabilities. For example, if a public library offers storytime for children, it must ensure that the program is accessible to children who are deaf or hard of hearing. This could mean providing sign language interpreters, written transcripts, or closed captions, depending on the needs of the children.

While the ADA does not explicitly require closed captions for online videos, many organizations under Title II or Title III have determined that captioning is critical to providing effective communication to individuals with hearing-related disabilities.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act 

Section 508 is a federal law requiring federal agencies’ information and communication technologies to be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. This law aims to ensure that people with disabilities have the same level of access to government information and services as those without disabilities. This includes all online content, such as emails, websites, and videos.

A critical requirement of Section 508 is that all federal online videos must be captioned. This means that accurate, synchronized captions must be added to the video to make it accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions should also not obstruct important information in the video, such as visual aids or text on the screen.

Making federal online content accessible is not only a legal requirement but also essential for ensuring that all citizens have equal access to important government information and services. By providing accessible online content, federal agencies can help to promote inclusivity and equal opportunity for all.

21st Century Communications and Videos Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The CVAA was established to guarantee equal access to digital technologies and online video content for individuals with disabilities in response to their widespread use and popularity. 

In 2010, Obama signed the CVAA, which, if implemented by the FCC, would establish specific regulations for internet video programming. The CVAA comprises two sections: Title I, which specifies accessibility standards for internet-based products and services, and Title II, which defines captioning and audio description criteria for online video.

Title I – Communications Access

Title I - Communications Access

Title I encompasses conventional and digital communication technologies, which were not previously subject to FCC regulations. This title mandates that “advanced communications services and products” be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired. These services encompass various forms of technology, including interconnected and non-interconnected voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services, electronic messaging services, and interoperable video conferencing services.

In addition, the title requires communication service providers to maintain records demonstrating that they have consulted with individuals with disabilities while developing their products and services. This provision aims to ensure that communication companies are taking into account the needs of people with disabilities throughout the product development process.

Title II – Video Programming

Title II of the CVAA is aimed at enhancing the accessibility of video programming. Its primary focus is to mandate closed captioning requirements for online video and audio descriptions for television programming. It mainly tackles Closed Captions and Audio Descriptions.

Title II mandates that TV programming with closed captioning must include captions when published online, but online-only video content is not required to have closed captions under CVAA. However, it may still fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Video displays should support captions, including those with screens under 13 inches. The FCC endorses the SMPTE-TT caption format as the preferred option.

Title II requires audio description for TV programming, which narrates visual content for visually impaired people. The narration is integrated within audio pauses. The mandate applies to specific commercial broadcast TV stations and multi-channel video providers, who must offer 87.5 hours of described prime time or children’s programming per quarter. This requirement also applies to the top five non-broadcast networks.

The Importance of Hiring a Professional Transcription Company

The Importance of Hiring a Professional Transcription Company

Expertise in crafting captions is crucial as a non-professional may need to be better-versed in the technical aspects of captioning legal requirements. An untrained individual can easily miss such details, which could cause complications.

Furthermore, a lack of experience and patience in adhering to legal requirements may result in transcription inaccuracies, ultimately leading to problems in effectively serving the communities we aim to assist.

By hiring a professional transcription company like Daily Transcription, you can rest assured that our team possesses a deep understanding of legal captioning requirements and can deliver superior closed captions with minimal errors.


The legal requirements for closed captions exist to ensure accessibility for all audiences, regardless of their circumstances. Transcription companies like Daily Transcription ensure that you can focus on what you want to do in the production process while your media content meets the legal requirements.

Daily transcription is a top provider in the closed-captioning field, as well as other services like subtitling and translation. Our skilled and experienced team is dedicated to delivering precise, timely, and error-free outputs that comply with legal requirements.Please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance with your content’s accessibility and other audio transcription needs.