What are Transcripts?

Whether you broadcast yourself on YouTube, or showcase yourself on Vimeo, multimedia content is the way to go. It’s engaging, it’s captivating, and the ultimate aim is to make it go viral.

Knowing about audio description, captions and transcripts, is the way to reach an even wider audience. In the second of a series of articles on multimedia accessibility, we take a look at transcripts.


Transcripts are text based alternatives to multimedia content. They include the spoken dialogue from the soundtrack, as well as descriptions of important sound effects.

It’s useful to look at an example. The BBC provide transcripts for their radio broadcasts, so take a look at Radio 4's In Touch transcripts to see how they do it.

Transcripts for video content should also include visual descriptions. As well as the spoken dialogue and sound effects, the transcript provides information about scene changes and visual activity on screen.

Who benefits from transcripts?

Deaf and hearing impaired people benefit the most from transcripts. Blind and partially sighted people can also find them useful, as can people with cognitive difficulties.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria

There are four success criteria under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 that deal with transcripts:

  • 1.2.1 Audio only and video only.
  • 1.2.3 Audio description or other media.
  • 1.2.7 Extended audio description.
  • 1.2.8 Other media.

As with many WCAG 2.0 success criteria, these are closely related to each other. In some cases they build on top of each other (or other success criteria), and in some cases they achieve slightly different goals.

1.2.1 Audio only and video only

This success criterion deals with content that is either audio or video, but not both together.

If you have audio content (with no visual track), you’ll need to provide a transcript to meet this Level A success criterion.

If you have video content (with no audio track), you have a bit more flexibility. You can either provide a transcript, or you can provide an audio described soundtrack instead.

1.2.3 Audio description or media alternative

We covered this success criterion in more detail when we looked at audio description. It’s the same as 1.2.1, except that it deals with combined (synchronised) audio and video content.

If you have synchronised multimedia content on the page, you can provide either a transcript or audio description to meet this Level A success criterion.

1.2.7 Extended audio description

Like 1.2.3, this Level AAA success criterion deals with synchronised multimedia. In fact, if you provided a transcript to meet 1.2.3, you’re already half way to meeting 1.2.7 as well.

You’ve probably noticed that this success criterion clearly mentions audio description. To meet 1.2.7 fully, you’ll need to provide both a transcript and audio description, which we looked at when we covered this subject previously.

1.2.8 Media alternatives

When you first look at success criterion 1.2.8, it’ll probably seem quite familiar. It’s the same as 1.2.7, except that it deals with video only content as well. If you’re thinking that this has been covered already, you’d be absolutely right.

In fact, if you’re feeling more confused than before we started, don’t panic. It all comes down to the people most likely to benefit from each success criterion.

If your content is just audio, 1.2.1 gives hearing impaired people an alternative in the form of a transcript. If your content is only video, a transcript provides an alternative for blind and partially sighted people under the same success criterion.

If you have synchronised (audio and video) content, all the other success criteria all fit together like a puzzle. The collective aim is to provide both transcripts and audio description. The only difference is the WCAG conformance level you achieve along the way.

When should transcripts be used?

These success criterion relate to pre-recorded media. If you're streaming live content you won't need to provide a transcript right away. As soon as you archive the live broadcast for people to access later on though, it becomes pre-recorded and you'll need to think about providing a transcript.

Creating transcripts

A transcript can be created by writing down everything that happens in your audio or video. Visually, a transcript looks like a script for a play. It includes dialogue assigned to a character, sound effects and short set descriptions.

You can make a transcript available as a document for download, or as a separate page within your website. The advantage to providing the transcript as a web page is that it can be indexed by search engines, making your multimedia content more readily available.

Whichever method you choose, place the link to the transcript above the media player on your page. People will then find the transcript before they reach the multimedia content, rather than after when it may be too late.