The Future of Video Player Accessibility: Webinar Q&A Highlights

April 28, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: February 22, 2018

3Play Media recently hosted a webinar exploring the future of video player accessibility. It featured an all-star roster of panelists from YouTube, JW Player, Video.js, and University of Washington, and was hosted by North Carolina State University’s IT Accessibility Coordinator, Greg Kraus.

The event was packed with insights on inclusive web design and strategy for video accessibility. Each panelist gave a short presentation on their organization’s approach to developing accessible online video players, followed by a Q&A to wrap things up. Below is a brief overview of the highlights. You can watch the recording in full on the video below.

Video.js’s Approach to Web Video Player Accessibility

Steve Heffernan, Video.js Project Lead and Engineer at Brightcove, kicked off the webinar with a presentation on Video.js’s innovations in accessible design and plans for future improvements. Steve covered Video.js’s HTML-based support of WebVTT captions and the balancing act between accessibility and extensibility.

YouTube’s Approach to Web Video Player Accessibility

Up next, Matthew Schweitz and Vladimir Vuskovic teamed up to present on YouTube’s accessibility strategy. Stressing that accessible design starts at the top, they explored tab indexes, caption display customization, and the brand new feature of fan-submitted captions.

JW Player’s Approach to Web Video Player Accessibility

JW Player’s Director of Product Eric Boyd shared how they are moving away from Flash into HTML to simplify things, especially when it comes to WebVTT caption support. He explained JW Player’s keyboard controls — with the help of a cat meme.

University of Washington’s Approach to Web Video Player Accessibility

UW’s Technology Accessibility Specialist Terrill Thompson showed us Able Player, a custom, open-sourced video player developed for making educational video accessible. Beyond transcription and captioning, Able Player can accommodate audio description files for the blind or even a second screen with ASL interpretation playing simultaneously.

Q&A with Expert Panelists

How does your video player integrate with Drupal, WordPress, or other content management systems?

    • MATTHEW SCHWEITZ: YouTube offers an embed player with a pretty extensive API that you can embed in any context, regardless of content management system or blogging platform. This embed player should have all the same accessibility controls that our normal on-site player has. And you can find out more about it on the

Google Developers website

    • . Just search for the YouTube Player API.

ERIC BOYD: JW Player can be embedded in any CMS. We do have a WordPress plug-in to do seamless integrations there. We also offer a WordPress VIP login, which is WordPress certified.

STEVE HEFFERNAN: For most video players, as long as you have a way to input HTML, you should be fine dropping in any of these video players.

TERRILL THOMPSON: We’ve recently added both a Drupal module and a WordPress plug-in to our issues list for Able Player, and someone already started working on the Drupal module. We’re really excited about that. And again, it’s open source. So anybody who’s interested in contributing to that, please do so.

How does video player accessibility relate to the mobile experience of video?

    • STEVE HEFFERNAN: Mobile devices are definitely a different beast altogether, because in a lot of cases, we don’t have control over building the controls. At least specifically on the iPhone, and I believe even Android, going to full screen, we can’t overlay our own custom controls. So we’re really relying on the browser to provide the accessibility at that point. That’s a real challenge.

TERRILL THOMPSON: I would second that. A lot of the features that we’ve added in Able Player, things like the interactive transcript and the second video of sign language, are basically just ignored within iOS, at least within the iPhone. Once you launch the video, then that opens up in the iOS player, and so all those features are lost.

We really want every video on YouTube to be accessible

MATTHEW SCHWEITZ: At YouTube, we are trying to pay a lot more attention to the mobile accessibility experience. Right now we’ve tried to cover a lot of the basics on iPhone and Android, in terms of using VoiceOver and the Android accessibility affordances.

It’s a bit more of a challenge in the mobile web situation, especially trying to deal with all the different platform nuances, in terms of video playback and interacting with native playback on the web, and various platforms taking over playback. It’s something we are trying to invest a lot more in.

STEVE HEFFERNAN: For Video.js, we get our requirements from two different places: 1) web accessibility standards, like WCAG, and 2) people submitting issues on the GitHub repo and telling us what they’re expecting out of the player.

When do we know that we’ve ‘gotten there’ with accessibility? At least in terms of an iterative design process, how do we know that we’re there for a particular version?

    • MATTHEW SCHWEITZ: This is a tough question that we think about a lot. We’re looking for accessibility to be a part of the conversation as early as possible in the feature life cycle. So we’d like to get to a point where every user research study, every design exercise, every prototype, has some thought about accessibility in it.

I don’t know that we’ll ever be there, where we can say, ‘OK, that’s accessible enough. We’re finished.’

VLADIMIR VUSKOVIC: We really want every video on YouTube to be accessible. We can think of ‘being there’ when we are able to create perfect auto-generated captions for every video on YouTube.

We release new versions of the player every month, so it’s an iterative process. And as people add more accessibility features, they get released pretty quickly. But I guess when we’re there, for me, would when we see fewer and fewer of these issues coming in requesting accessibility features, and when we meet all of the WCAG standards.

TERRILL THOMPSON: I don’t know that we’ll ever be there, where we can say, “OK, that’s accessible enough. We’re finished.” Because it’s just like any other feature set. We’re never going to be finished with our players and say, “OK, that’s it. We don’t need to do any further development.” Accessibility’s just another feature.

But also, we’ve referred quite a bit to a document within the W3C, called Media Accessibility User Requirements. That aims to lay out all of the different user groups, particularly focusing on accessibility, what the needs of those user groups are, and what their user requirements are related to interacting with video. It has been a really great resource to compare what we’ve done with where we want to be. And there’s a lot of stuff in there that, realistically, probably will never happen. But it is something to be aware of and a good resource to consult.

If you’ve got all these video players that support captions, then we’d love to see everybody caption their video.

ERIC BOYD: I don’t know if we’ll ever actually ‘be there.’ But at least come up with a definition of ‘there,’ — what does that ‘there’ mean for you. At JW Player, we have some things in mind of where we want to go, like better screen reader support, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be there even after that.

Also, there will always be new media formats coming out. For example, what does accessibility mean for a 3D video experience?

TERRILL THOMPSON: To borrow the cliche from Field of Dreams, “If we build it, they will come.” That really is our hope: if you’ve got all these video players that support captions, then we’d love to see everybody caption their video. And hopefully Google and YouTube can continue moving the science forward in terms of automatic captioning. But also, hopefully, we can find some creative ways, maybe with 3Play Media, to get cost down so that everybody can afford to caption everything.

I’d love to see all video everywhere captioned, and then all the benefits that can come with that, like interactive transcripts on all video and fully searchable video.

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.