This article originally appeared in the February 2023 edition of Inside Equal Access. 

By: Doug Flower


Welcome to a new Tools of the Trade series: Accessibility Features for Apple and Android Devices! In this series, we’ll dive into some of the new and innovative accessibility features coming to your favorite phones. Whether you’re Team Apple or Team Android, you’re sure to find a feature here that piques your interest and gets you thinking about accessibility in a whole new way.

In this month’s article, we’ll be looking at the second of a new set of accessibility features added in IOS 16 for Apple phones: “Live Captions”.

Let’s jump in!

A recent blog post on Medium by author Maddalena Zampitelli sings the praises of Apple – a company that takes designing and developing for users with disabilities seriously. IOS 16, which was released on September 12th, is the most recent operating system for Apple iPhones, and with it comes a host of new accessibility features designed to assist users with disabilities and provide a more inclusive experience. The six most impressive of these new features are highlighted in Zampitelli’s Medium post, titled “6 Accessibility features in iOS 16 we can’t ignore as designers”.

Let’s take a closer look at the second of these new features, “Live Captions,” and explore what it means for accessibility in greater detail.

Accessibility Feature #2 – Live Captions

The benefits of closed captions cannot be overstated. Rev, a speech-to-text service company, lists just a few of these benefits in their comprehensive article, “The Ultimate Roundup of Compelling Closed Captions Statistics”:

  • Grabs attention, increases watch time, and promotes engagement
  • Improves video SEO to get more views
  • Gives users and customers better viewing experiences
  • Accelerates language learning
  • Increases productivity
  • Improves accessibility for all to enjoy your content (and avoids risking lawsuits)

IOS 16 brings with it the ability to turn on live captions and live Facetime captions. These captions can consider multiple speakers and sounds, and users can adjust the text, size, and color of the captions for better readability. And as noted by Zampitelli for the more security-minded of us, “Live Captions are created on device, thus user data is safe.”

More impressive still, according to an Apple Insider blog post, is that “the new Live Captions will also automatically attribute its transcribed captions to the right caller, making it clear who is saying what.”

iPhone screen shows a live transcript of what's being said in a voice memo.
Image: iPhone screen shows a live transcript of what's being said in a voice memo.

What Live Captions means for accessibility

For those who experience hearing loss or deafness, captions are an essential accessibility feature for understanding sounds or spoken dialogue in a video. However, as mentioned above, captions can also be an essential learning and productivity tool.

A 2017 EDUCAUSE study concluded that “more than half of students are using closed captions in their educational videos at least sometimes,” and that compared to their peers who reported a disability, “students not reporting disabilities use captions almost as frequently, with more than 50 percent using them sometimes or more often.” Additionally:

  • More than 50 percent of all students surveyed found closed captions to be “very” or “extremely” helpful
  • More than 75 percent of all students surveyed cited the use of closed captions as a learning aid to help them focus, retain information, and overcome poor audio

This can be especially true for any one of the 1,648 international students at Kent State last semester, an audience which has grown consecutively for three straight years. (Article: International Student Enrollment Up for Third Consecutive Year) Live captions during online lectures or class discussions can help students whose first language isn’t English better understand and retain course material and create a more welcoming learning environment.

As designers, we need to ensure that our audio and video content can be easily understood by learners of all languages and hearing ability. When designing content, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are captions provided on all my pre-recorded videos?
  • Are the captions I provided accurate?
  • Am I enabling captions during my live lectures and class discussions?
  • Am I providing text alternatives (such as transcripts) for those who learn better by reading rather than listening?

Discover ways to add captions to your audio and video content to aid learners of all languages and hearing ability with Student Accessibility Services and Kaltura REACH.

And please join us in the next Tools of the Trade segment as we take a look at some of the new accessibility features on Android devices.