YouTube’s Video Accessibility Innovation

April 29, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: February 22, 2018

Experts from the YouTube Accessibility Team recently joined 3Play Media for a webinar exploring the future of video player accessibility. Matthew Schweitz, Engineering Manager, and Vladimir Vuskovic, Product Manager, co-presented on YouTube’s video player accessibility strategy – past, present, and future.

Inclusive Design Needs Company Buy-In

At YouTube, company buy-in for accessible web design is essential. Google’s own mission statement explicitly aims to make all information “universally accessible.”

'Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' –Google. 'Empower the world to create, broadcast, and share.' -YouTube
“The organization has said that these are the priorities, so everything else will follow,” said Matthew. “In essence, it doesn’t really work this way. There’s always something that seems to trump accessibility in a large organization. Priorities don’t necessarily align in favor of accessibility.”

Making Accessibility Part of the Design Process

So how does YouTube make accessibility a design priority?

By “thinking about accessibility as a dimension of overall product quality.”

Just as developers consider factors like UI polish and bug fixes, designing for optimal accessibility becomes essential for shipping a product. Framing accessibility that way has been very effective.

Through internal education and evangelism at YouTube, the team ensures that developers understand how accessibility plays into product quality so that it’s a design consideration from the beginning.

YouTube Accessibility for Blind or Low-Vision Viewers

Matthew’s presentation focused on YouTube’s accessibility features for low- or no-vision viewers.
He shared lessons-learned, like how handcrafting tab indexes is better than trying to deal with them automatically. YouTube has had success implementing tab indexes, aira-owns, and labels, to help blind viewers navigate and operate the video player.

You can now actually skip ads with a keyboard or screen readers, which is blind viewers are surely appreciate!

YouTube Captioning

Vladimir took over from Matthew to cover YouTube’s accessibility features for the deaf and hard of hearing. He outlined his priorities as follows:

“First, we need to ensure that the viewer experience is really great. And second, we need to make sure that as many videos as possible are captioned.”

Vladimir highlighted YouTube’s customization features, which allow users to select when they want captions to show up and how they should appear onscreen.

YouTube offers three main methods for adding captions to video.

Creating Captions: 1) Creator Tools 2) Crowdsourced Fan Captions 3) Autogenerated – in order of ascending scale and descending quality
In order of ascending scalability and descending quality, your YouTube captioning options are:

Caption File Uploaded by Creator

YouTubers can use Creator Tools to upload a caption file that was created personally or by a professional video transcription and captioning service. These captions tend to be the highest-quality ones, but only a small subset of YouTube’s hundreds of millions of videos are captioned that way.

Crowdsourced Fan Captions

In order to scale and cover many more videos with manually-crafted, high-quality captions, YouTube is launching a fan captioning feature.

Currently in beta testing, fan captions allow fans of a YouTube channel to generate captions for the content they love. The caption files are then submitted to the channel manager for approval. This is a great way to crowdsource quality captioning for video creators who have an enthusiastic following.

Fan Subtitles. Quantity: coverage, languages per vido. Quality: fix errors, replace auto-captions. Challenges: quality control.

Auto-generated Captions

YouTube offers auto-generated captions on all videos by default. These are created using ASR, or Automatic Speech Recognition software. As YouTube has admitted, auto-generated captions are far from perfect. With a 70% accuracy rate, it gets about 1 in 3 words wrong. Auto-captions are the most scalable solution for captioning video, although they are the least accurate and therefore least useful to the end user.

The Future of YouTube Accessibility

Matthew and Vladimir gave a sneak peek into future inclusive design innovations at YouTube. Here’s what they have in the works:

  • Fan subtitles: currently in a beta, planning a wide release
  • Refinements on discoverability of keyboard shortcuts
  • Mobile accessibility
  • Improved ASR technology for auto-captioning
  • Audio descriptions

Hear what else YouTube has to say about the future of video accessibility in the post-webinar Q&A.

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

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