How do I turn on captions or descriptive audio in my media player?

Captions provide equivalent text for individuals who are unable to hear the audio content. Recent versions of each of the three major media players (Microsoft Windows Media® Player, Real Player®, and QuickTime® Player) support the display of captions if they are available.

Descriptive audio (also known as audio description) is a separate audio track that describes any important visual content that is not already accessible through the main audio track. Descriptive audio benefits individuals who are unable to see the visual content. Recent versions of Real Player and QuickTime Player support descriptive audio when available. Windows Media Player does not presently support descriptive audio.

To display captions or provide descriptive audio, the web developer needs to provide users with all relevant files, and link to the media in ways that assure that media players are aware of the accessible content. If you are a web developer wanting to learn more about delivering accessible multimedia files, see the article How can I display accessible rich media in RealPlayer, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player?.

If you are a user wanting to activate a multimedia presentation's accessibility if it's available, consult the following steps for toggling captions and audio description within your media player.

Real Player version 9 and higher (Windows® or Mac®)

  • In the Windows version, select Tools > Preferences from the menu bar.
  • In the Mac version, select Real One Player™ > Preferences from the menu bar.
  • Several Preferences categories appear in the left column. From these categories, select Content.
  • Under Content, there is a section titled Accessibility, which includes two check boxes, one for toggling captions, and one for toggling descriptive audio.

Windows Media Player version 9 and higher (Windows)

Windows Media Player does not currently support descriptive video. It does support closed captions. However, there are several requirements for closed captions to be displayed:

  1. Windows Media Player must be in Full Mode (Control+F1), rather than Skins Mode. Windows Media Player has a variety of visual skins available, but few support the display of closed captions.
  2. Turn on captions by performing the following steps:
    • Press Alt+P to activate the Play menu (this hotkey combination will work even if the application menu is not visible)
    • Select Captions and Subtitles
    • Select On if Available

    Note: In version 10, the above steps can be executed with a single hotkey combination: Ctrl+Shift+C.

  3. In version 10, an additional step is required because Windows Media Player's security settings block the display of captions by default. To assure that the display of captions is permitted, perform the following steps:
    • Press Alt+T to activate the Tools menu (this hotkey combination will work even if the application menu is not visible)
    • Select Options
    • Select the Security tab
    • Check the box beside "Show local captions when present"
    • Select OK

QuickTime Player 6.5 and higher (Windows or Mac)

In QuickTime Player, all captions are open captions (if available, captions are always visible on the screen). The same is true for audio description.