TikTok Adds Free Automated Captions

It's a step to make the platform more accessible for people with hearing loss

Julia Métraux

Health Writer

TikTok announced today that they are rolling out automated captions. To generate captions, video creators must enable auto captions prior to posting videos. Once enabled, auto captions automatically transcribes new videos and displays captions.

An image of automated captions being turned on for TikTok

Image via TikTok Newsroom

A more inclusive social media

“Inclusivity is important because when people feel included, they're more comfortable expressing themselves and engaging with their community,” Stephanie Hind, Manager, Creator Management and Operations, TikTok US wrote in a blog post. “As we continue working to make TikTok ever more accessible, today we’re introducing auto captions, a new feature to help people who are hard of hearing or deaf better use and enjoy TikTok.”

The step to include auto captions has come after criticism from the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing communities accusing TikTok of failing to accommodate their disabilities. In an article for The Leaf, ASL teacher Nicole Price previously said “that closed captioning is one of their biggest issues with [the app], because with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, things are supposed to be closed captioned, and they’re often not.” Just like Zoom’s failure to add free captions until a year into the pandemic, TikTok took their time in making their platform more accessible for hard-of-hearing people.

Now, TikTok content (like these earwax removal videos) may become more accessible for the disability communities. Many Deaf and hard of hearing creators, like erin.syd, had already written their own captions for their videos. Now, hopefully, this change will lead to more content creators making more accessible videos.

Limitations of TikTok’s auto captions

One major limitation of TikTok’s implementation is the need for content creators to enable captions on their end. This means it’s up to each individual TikTok creator to understand the importance of captioning, and take the manual step of enabling auto captions. This is similar to Zoom’s requirement that room hosts must enable live captioning to allow captioning access for room participants.

Auto captions are available in American English and Japanese, though TikTok plans to expand the language options in the coming months. Creators whose videos are not in American English or Japanese may continue to add captions manually.