How to Add Subtitles to Your Videos

As ASL interpreters, we know our videos must be captioned and accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people – now more than ever. Subtitles are also good for hearing people who are in noisy places and can’t hear the audio, people who are in quiet places and don’t want to disturb those around them, English language learners….

Basically adding subtitles to your videos is good for everyone!!

But how do you make subtitles happen?!

I’ve been learning through trial and error over the last few years, testing out all the no-cost options I could find, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Get ready, this post is loooooong. You might want to bookmark it now to refer back to as you need it, and take breaks as you go through this. You know, self-care!

Here we go!!! 

So, you made a video! 

This may have been a Facebook Live video, an Instagram Live video, a Zoom video, or just a video that you recorded on your computer or phone. For the videos recorded on your computer or phone, you have the video file saved there. Great! Skip to the YouTube step.

For videos recorded on a Live platform, you first need to download the video file.
Here’s how.

Download Your Facebook Live Video File

I don’t know why Facebook makes your own Live video files so hard to download, but they do. Don’t worry. Here’s a simple way to get that file:

  1. Click on your Facebook Live video to open it.
  2. Press play, and then you can press pause if you don’t want the video to keep playing while you’re concentrating on these steps. It just has to play for a second for this next step to work.
  3. Double-click on the URL and replace the www. with mbasic. and hit return.ID: Facebook Live video example with a woman on screen. URL has www. highlighted. Tags: add subtitles to videos, captions, interpreter
  4. You should see a weird-looking Facebook page (it’s the mobile version) with your video. Click play on the video. Your video should open in the middle of a new, black, page. This is perfect! You’re doing it!
  5. Now the final MAGIC step! Right click on the video (for my MacBook-lovers it’s the two-finger click on your trackpad), and choose “Save Video As.” Name the file whatever you want and download that baby! Click Save!
  6. Do a happy dance!! You have the video file from your Facebook Live!

Download Your Instagram Live Video File

Instagram makes it much simpler, but still tricky to get your video file. The trick with Instagram is:


If you miss that opportunity, I don’t have any magic tricks to get your video back. If you know the magic trick for this send it my way and I’ll add the instructions here!

What I do: I write myself a sticky-note (you know I love sticky-notes) to SAVE THE VIDEO when I’m done, so I don’t forget. Do what works for you! Just make sure you remember to download.

Here’s the Instagram support page that shows you the icon to look for to download the video right-after-you’re-done-recording!

Download Your Zoom Video

While you’re Live in Zoom, doin’ your thang, make sure you hit “Record” to capture that video. You’ll want to check out your recording settings ahead of time to make sure what you’re recording. There are options for Speaker-view only, Gallery-view only, with screen share, without screen share… The options are almost endless, you just gotta pick! Otherwise you could end up with a video of one person picking their nose the whole time, and no one else’s pretty faces. Eek!

If you chose to record to the cloud, you’ll log into your Zoom account, click on Recordings, and download the file you want. If you’re a Zoom user, this part is probably old hat.

Here’s the Zoom support page instructions if you want more help with that part. 

A Side Note About Accessibility DURING Your Zoom Call

While you’re hosting your Zoom call you may have participants who are Deaf or hard of hearing. You of course want this call to be accessible to them! Here are the options I’m familiar with – please send me more if I’m missing any!

  1. VRS – The Video Relay Service is a federally funded service that provides interpreters for telephone calls.  Here’s an example from Purple VRS. When you schedule a Zoom call, make sure you share the dial-in phone number, meeting ID, and pass code with the participants. The Deaf participant will be able to give that information to the VRS interpreter, and then the call will be accessible to them in sign language.

    Note: this option is only helpful for Deaf or hard of hearing people who use American Sign Language and are in the U.S.

    Some tips for working with an interpreter on your call:

    • Speak one person at a time.
    • Identify the name of the person who’s speaking, each time they speak.
    • Give time for the interpreting process when waiting for a response from the Deaf or hard of hearing participant.
  2. Google Slides Real-Time Auto-Caption – I haven’t needed to use this option yet, but I love that it’s available! If you try it out, please let us know in the comments how it works and what you learned! This option could be useful if you have Deaf or hard of hearing participants who don’t use ASL, don’t have access to multiple screens (VRS would take up one screen and the Zoom video would need a second screen), or who just prefer to receive the info in English. You would share your screen with Google Slides + captions. Follow the instructions here from the Google Slides support page. 
  3. Zoom Closed-Captioning – To have Live captions during your Zoom meeting through the Zoom platform, you need to have another person typing what’s being said. This could be a participant, co-host, or a hired captioning service. Here’s the Zoom support page to learn more about their closed-captioning feature. 

Ok, you have your video file!! What’s next?

Upload the Video File to YouTube

This is THE free place to add captions to your videos with the least amount of time and finger-working energy that I’ve found. As sign language interpreters, our hands and shoulders are already overworked – hunching over a computer to type everything that’s said in a video is more than tedious – it’s downright painful.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Upload your video to YouTube. If you need help doing this, here’s the support page that walks you through uploading to YouTube.
  2. Put on your patient pants. Magic Captioning Squirrels are hard at work captioning your video! Depending on the length of the video, it takes between 30 minutes and a day or longer for them to make your automatic captions. 
  3. You will know your auto captions have processed when you see this (where it says “This is your Auto-Captioned File!”):ID: Picture of YouTube Creator Studio showing subtitles tab and the three dots to click on. Tags: add subtitles to videos
  4. Do another dance, because the Magic Captioning Squirrels just did the heavy-lifting for you!!
  5. Click the 3 dots just to the right of “Published: Automatic,” to get to the caption editing page. Select “Edit on Classic Studio.” Now you see your caption file!!! Do another dance!
  6. Click on “Edit” in the upper right corner, and go to town making your captions just as you want them. Here’s the support page for editing captions.
  7. Click “Save Changes” in the upper right when you’re done.
  8. Now you should see this screen. The second file called “English” (or whatever language your edited captions are in) is the one you want to get the subtitle/cc file for. Click on it!ID: YouTube Creator Studio showing English edited caption option. Tags: add subtitles to videos
  9. You’re back in your subtitles file. Don’t click “Edit” this time! Instead, on the left side right above your captions, click where it says, “Actions.” You should get a drop-down menu. Under “Download” select “.srt”. Click here if you want to know more about what an .srt file is.
  10. Do your happiest dance of all! YOU HAVE A SUBTITLES FILE MADE BY MAGIC! For what to do next with this subtitles file, read on!

Add Subtitles to Videos

You have your subtitles file, next let’s look at how to add it to your video based on the platform you’re using.

Add Subtitles to Your Facebook Live

You’ve got that .srt file, now you’re gonna head back to that Facebook Live video you made. 

  1. First, let’s rename the .srt file so that Facebook likes it. Facebook wants the filename to have this format: . The “Name” part can be whatever you want, but if your video is in English and you’re in the U.S., then it has to say:
  2. Ok, open up that Live video once more, and click on it again. It should open into a larger format like this. In the upper right corner click on the three dots.ID: Facebook Live video showing a woman on screen, with the three dots circled to show where to click. Tags: add subtitles to videos
  3. Click “Edit Video” from the drop-down options.
  4. Scroll down a bit and click on “Subtitles & Captions (CC).”
  5. If there is already a caption file next to “Captions Added”, delete it. This page changed recently and it seems like Facebook may have an auto captioning option now, but I haven’t verified or played with it. If you do, let us know in the comments what you learn!!
  6. Select your video language, at the top.
  7. Click “Upload” and select the .srt file you made and renamed earlier.
  8. Click “Save.” Do a SUPERHAPPY dance!! Your Facebook Live video now has subtitles! Play it and revel in the beauty!!

Add Subtitles to Your Instagram Video

Here’s where Instagram doesn’t make it simple. There’s nowhere that I can find yet to upload the .srt file in Instagram. So, we’ve got to burn those subtitles right into the video file itself. Good thing you saved that video file!!

I just learned to do this myself yesterday, so I’ll spare you my jumbled instructions and instead direct you straight to the source. 

Here are the instructions for adding an SRT file to your video file

Make sure you follow the instructions for “Burned-In” Open Captions (step 4).

I found that the first time I followed this process, my subtitles were off from my speech in the video by about 4 seconds – the subtitles were showing up 4 seconds later than what I had just said. I found, through trial and error, that an offset of -3000 got my subtitles and speech much more in sync.

Instructions for playing with the offset (timing of subtitles to audio) can be found here. 

Basically all it says in the instructions is this:
“You can set an offset (measured in milliseconds) to change the start time that the first and subsequent SRT subtitles will appear. Use trial and error encoding a single chapter to obtain the correct offset.”

Once you get the offset where you want it: click “Add to Queue,” press “Start,” wait for Handbrake to do its magic, and then VOILA! You have a video file with subtitles embedded!

Now take that video file to Instagram – I found it easiest to do this from my computer – and follow these instructions for uploading your video to IGTV.

Add Subtitles to Your Zoom Recording

How you add captions to your Zoom recording will depend on where you plan to house this captioned Zoom recording. There are so many options, that I’ll just give you two of the easiest ones. 

  1. Share the YouTube link from the Zoom video you uploaded and captioned earlier in this tutorial. Easy-peasy.
  2. Follow the burned-in subtitles option above (under “Add Captions to Your Instagram Video”) to create a video file that has open captions burned into it, then you can upload that video to whatever platform you’d like.

That’s It, Folks!

That’s what I’ve got for you today – but we’re not through!  Now it’s your turn.

Please drop a comment below to add your brilliant ideas and hard-won lessons to this conversation.

  • Deaf community, what would you like us to know about making videos accessible?
  • Techies, what did I miss? Please share your shortcuts with us!

We need all perspectives and experiences here! Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Have FUN adding a new layer to your videos, and thanks in advance for making more videos accessible.


PS: If you haven’t signed the petition to make sure all very important nationally-televised COVID-19 Task Force updates are interpreted, take 30 seconds and sign it now! 

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