DIY Captioning Resources

A Few Live-Event Captioning Definitions

Captions vs Subtitles

“Captions” and “Subtitles” both transliterate speech as it is happening, but captions try to describe the full soundscape for the deaf and hard of hearing. How the characters are speaking lines, noises that the characters are making, the sounds around them.

Open vs Closed Captioning

(at live events)

"Open Captioning" in a live setting refers to captions that are presented to the entire audience, via TV, projector, etc.

"Closed Captioning" is the same captions broadcast to personal devices like mobile phones, tablets, glasses, etc.


"Communication Access Real-time Translation". CART captioners, or real-time captioners, do not pre-build captions from a script. They are skilled technicians with special hardware that allows them to transliterate speech in real time. You must use a CART captioner for any part of your event that is not scripted: after-show talkbacks, pre-show speeches, etc.

People that Use Captions at a Live Scripted Event

The d/Deaf and hard of hearing.
People who have lost hearing due to age, illness or accident. They may not identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing, but we have found that they do find captions great for enhancing the experience of the performance.
People that need translations from one language to another.
Note: captions are not a substitution for ASL translation. Some people's first language is sign, and some deaf people are not fluent in sign. Don't assume: ask your d/Deaf or hard of hearing patrons which accessible option they prefer. Or provide both!

Captioning a scripted event

The Hardware

  • a display for the captions (a TV, projector, or mobile device)
  • a laptop computer
  • a way to connect those two things

The Process

  • break down a script in small bits of artful, easily read pieces of text (see ART OF CAPTIONING)
  • put this text into a slide-like format (see SOFTWARE)
  • at the performance, advance the text as the performer speaks

The Software

  • slide presentation software: PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides,, CaptionPoint
  • break your script into readable slides
  • this software allows you to extend your captions to your broadcast screen (TV, projector, etc.) while you have a "presenter screen" that shows upcoming captions
  • CaptionPoint allows you to work directly with the script in its text form, bypassing the need to copy and paste text into slides. You apply simple formatting to the script directly which automatically presents the script as slides that you can run in the same way you'd run a PowerPoint presentation. This software specifically designed for building captions saves a ton of time and is more efficient. Coming soon!

The art of scripted captioning

Design choices for maximum readability

  • yellow text on black background
  • don't use all caps, unless for emphasis
  • sans-serif fonts instead of serif fonts…choose Arial over Times New Roman
  • coloring character names provides a subtle subliminal emphasis for each character
  • keep things top-left aligned for the most part; center-align song lyrics and sound descriptions
  • use 2 to 3 lines of dialogue max, depending on the "phrasing" of the text. This might mean you have a slide with one word, or break one sentence into two slides.

Best practices

  • don't give away jokes or dramatic moments. Put the punchline on the next slide. Having everyone in the audience laugh at the same time is your goal.
  • use musical notes to signify singing
  • use [brackets] and (parentheses) to describe sound, or speak to how a particular line is spoken
  • caption as much sound as you can. Be colorful but brief.
  • adjectives are your friend. Try "[a loud metallic clang]" instead of "[clang]"; "[hushed, nervous chatter]" instead of
  • describe music in mood rather than content. "[upbeat music with a funky drumbeat]" makes more sense to most than
    "[guitar-based j-Pop]"
  • include lyrics to songs whenever possible, even during transition scenes! The songs were chosen by the music director for a reason…lyrics are always appreciated!

A fantastic audience experience

Good captioning is crucial, but what sets you apart is investing in thoughtful customer service. Train box office and house managers on dates of captioned shows, access ticket prices, and where to assign seating.

Ensure that captions can be read from any assigned seating, and always keep in mind the line of sight…you don't want people reading captions to look like they're following a tennis match as they move their attention from the actors to the TV/projectors.

Captioners should be encouraged to collaborate with set, lighting, and music designers to integrate captions artfully into the production.

For example: is there a way to build the captioning display directly into the set? Add "accessibility designers" to your team and have everyone work together.

More Resources!

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