How To Enable Live Captions and Transcription In Zoom

Shari Eberts

Hearing health advocate

Like many of us, I have attended countless webinars and virtual meetings during the pandemic. We have all learned the basic rules like keeping yourself muted when you are not speaking, but the lack of hearing loss accessibility still surprises me. Whether it is college information sessions for prospective students or non-profit organizations looking to keep their supporters engaged, many of the virtual events do not provide captions — even the ASR (automatic speech recognition) ones that are available on all paid plans on Zoom.

This happens with smaller organizations too. Rarely do we find captions on streamed fitness classes, online religious services, or online classes. In fact it is the rare exception that an event on Zoom is captioned, even now as free ASR captions are rolling out to more and more accounts.

But why?

It's not that the hosts don't want to provide this added layer of accessibility — it's that they often don’t know about it or cannot figure out how to do it!

Tips to Share with the Host of Your Next Meeting

Hopefully this will be less of an issue in the near future since Zoom is working to make its excellent ASR captioning (Live Transcript) service available for all webinars and meetings without needing to be enabled by the host. But until then, here are some helpful hints to share with meeting hosts as they work to enable captioning for the next event you want to attend. Follow these steps to enable Live Transcript on your account as well.

Step 1: Enable Live Transcript at the Main Account Level

Log into Zoom on your Internet browser — not the app. Enable automatic speech recognition (ASR) closed captioning for your Zoom meetings by checking Enable live transcription service in the main settings under Meeting Settings and then In Meeting (Advanced). This must be done in the administrator account.

Note that a Zoom Pro plan or higher is currently required, but this feature should be available for all accounts by Fall 2021. If you have a free account and need early access, fill out this form.

Toggle Closed Captioning

The first step is to toggle closed captioning inside the Zoom website.

Step 2: Meeting Host Activates Live Transcript in the Meeting

Once enabled in the account settings, a Live Transcript button will appear at the bottom of the host’s meeting screen. At the start of each meeting, the host must enable the Live Transcript feature by selecting Enable Auto-Transcription.

The Live Transcript button will then appear on attendee screens where they can turn on the captions for themselves. To enable, they must click on Live Transcript and then Show Subtitles to read captions at the bottom of the screen. Note: The caption box can be moved by clicking and dragging to any location on the screen for preferred viewing.

Enable Auto Transcription

The second step is to enable auto-transcription in the meeting

What if Nothing Works

Even if you share these tips with the host of a Zoom meeting when requesting captioning, there is no guarantee the event will be captioned. Sometimes it just isn't possible. Perhaps the institution is so large, they can’t figure out who controls the main account. Or maybe there are HIPAA (medical records privacy) or other privacy concerns. 

In this case, use a speech-to-text app of your own to caption the event. My favorites are Live Transcribe, free on Android phones and Otter.ai, which works for Android and iOS phones. The Otter app is free for up to 600 minutes of captioning per month.

The good news is that Zoom plans to make Live Transcript available on all meetings and webinars by default once it is enacted at the Main Account level, but the timing remains unclear. Hopefully before the Fall.