Q&A: Accessibility Comparison of Major Video Players
Updated: June 3, 2019
The video players we use aren’t always as accessible as we need them to be. Of course, this can be a problem if you are trying to make your information more accessible.
Knowing the accessibility features of your video player is critical when making the decision of where to host your content. But an accessible video player goes beyond its ability to host captions or it’s ability to be controlled with a keyboard.
That’s why Gian Wild, CEO and founder of AccessibilityOz, embarked on a mission to test over 30 major video players for keyboard and screen-readers accessibility to see if they were compliant with WCAG 2.0 level AA.
The results revealed a harsh reality into the accessibility of today’s prominent video players.
In the following Q&A, Gian discusses how she came up with the test, why she thinks the video players failed, and her vision for the future of accessible players.
To learn more about Gian’s astonishing findings, watch the webinar, Accessibility Comparison of the Major Video Players.
How did you come up with the criteria for testing?
GIAN WILD: At AccessibilityOz, we test via category. Basically, we went through all the WCAG 2.0 techniques, and we pulled them out and said, this belongs to the images category. This is testing images. This belongs to the tables category. This belongs to the video category.
We have 635 areas grouped by different categories. There might be 120 in forms, and there’s maybe 85 in video. And so those 85 in video, we removed all the ones that were reliant on what the owner of the video did, like whether the captions were accurate, whether the content in the video was accessible and things like that, and we retained just the video player tests. So that’s where they initially came from, and that’s why they do each tie back to a WCAG 2.0 technique.
“I’ve learned a lot about why people with vision impairments use captions.”
We also looked at the media player guidelines in W3C, which we looked at when we were building OzPlayer as well. And then what we did is we went to our screen reader users and said, “These are the things we think you should test. Are there other things that you should test as well?”
I personally, when we first started testing having captions accessible to a screen reader user, I didn’t think that was necessary. I remember, when it came back from the screen reader users saying this is what we want to test, I was like, “But you’re vision impaired. You don’t need to use captions.” So I’ve learned a lot about why people with vision impairments use captions.
So they came from WCAG 2.0, and then the screen reader test was specifically worked out with the screen reader users.
What involvement from blind or low vision individuals did you have in testing or coming up with the testing criteria?
GIAN WILD: So our policy at AccessibilityOz is that we only ever test with vision-impaired people who are reliant on screen readers when we’re testing screen readers. So everyone who tested was vision impaired and was entirely reliant on their screen reader.
Now, we use someone who is incredibly skilled at their screen reader use, which is something else that you need to think about when testing because you need to be sure that it’s not that video player that is inaccessible, it’s that it might be that the screen reader user doesn’t have the skills to really figure out how to use it. So use someone who is incredibly skilled.
He worked with us to come up with the tests for the screen reader testing.
What are the biggest barriers to creating accessible video players? Is it technology? Cost? Lack of knowledge about the need?
GIAN WILD: It’s not something that is easy. Certainly, when we first built OzPlayer, it was very difficult to create a Flash fallback that wasn’t a keyboard trap. So we still do have a Flash fallback, other than the HTML5 video.
So we did this testing over the last month to two weeks. And as we found issues about OzPlayer, we sent them off to see if the OzPlayer could be fixed. There are some things that we still haven’t figured out a way to fix accessibly. Especially with the Android and TalkBack which are not really friendly towards accessibility, and so they’ll behave incredibly differently to iOS and VoiceOver. And you kind of have to be in a situation where you’ve got one player that has to support this whole range of different operating systems, and browsers, and devices. And sometimes, it can be really hard.
In reality, even with two or three weeks of our team going back and forth and talking to our testers and talking to the developers and all that kind of stuff, we still couldn’t make it 100%. I hope we will, but then a new operating system will be released, and we’ll have to start all over again.
I don’t think that it’s impossible. Certainly, Terrill Thompson, who has Able Player, has done it himself. It’s just something that requires, I suppose, constant vigilance. And that’s something that we don’t necessarily see from the video player manufacturers, I think, they build something, they release it, and they don’t look at it again a year. And in that year, the accessibility of that video player can vary significantly as things change and are introduced.
“ The accessibility of that video player can vary significantly as things change and are introduced.”
I think that’s something that maybe the video player manufacturers haven’t really thought about or haven’t incorporated into their systems, that level of testing, that level of fixing. And I’m sure it would be very hard if you’ve got hundreds of thousands of clients or millions of clients to send updates that regularly. But I think at the moment, that’s kind of where we’re at until HTML5 is better supported.
Can you tell us a bit more about the origin of the OzPlayer?
GIAN WILD: We started OzPlayer in 2012 because we did a whole bunch of audits, because that’s what we do, and we’d always find that the video players that people were using were inaccessible. And so our clients would come to us and they’d say, “Well, what should we use instead?” And we’d say, “Well, there isn’t anything accessible.” This was back when a whole bunch of video players were seriously inaccessible.
So we decided to build OzPlayer. And we released it in 2013.
One of the reasons why we do this testing every year is because we found out very quickly that we really needed to test it every month because a new browser would come out, a new operating system, a new phone, or something like that. And all of a sudden, it would break what we had built. So that’s what we found, that the existing players, if they weren’t really on top of testing, then something that was perfectly accessible today might not be anywhere near accessible tomorrow.[The OzPlayer] was also one of the first players to support audio descriptions. There’s only two now that support them, OzPlayer and Able Player. And that’s one of the reasons we built it as well because it’s an AA requirement under WCAG 2.0 to provide audio descriptions of your videos. But if your video player doesn’t support audio descriptions, how can you provide that to users?
We were writing audits saying, you need to provide audio descriptions of these videos. And people were like, well, but our player doesn’t support it. And there is no player that can support it.
That’s where it came from.
Do you think the need for more accessible players is known and at the forefront? And where do you see this going in the next few years as video continues to play a huge role in our culture?
GIAN WILD: We’ve been doing this testing for three years, and the video players have improved. And they’ve often addressed things that we have identified, which is great. But we still only have two players that support audio descriptions. And audio descriptions are absolutely essential for people who are vision impaired.
In reality, there’s this dissonance between caption requirements and audio description requirements. You see that on TV as well. Everything on TV in the US needs to be captioned, [yet] they’re just increasing needs for audio description.
“ In reality, there’s this dissonance between caption requirements and audio description requirements.
I do think that that’s something that really needs to be addressed. And really, I don’t understand why that hasn’t been the case. I don’t understand why it’s not as important to provide audio descriptions. And we’re in year three of testing, and we’re still only two video players that support audio descriptions.
I would have thought when I started the testing three years ago that they would have supported them by now. So I think probably that’s the big thing that people need to do. And as I said, I really don’t know why it hasn’t happened yet.
What are some of the benefits of an accessible player, in addition to accessibility, that might be helpful to for gaining buy-in or in sales?
GIAN WILD: Things that have captions are searchable via the Google search and things like that. So that’s one reason why you’d want to have a player that supports captions correctly. Having captions that support multiple languages means that, once again, you’ll have those captions being searched by Google search in multiple languages. And you’ll increase in the search engine results.
Transcripts also are searchable. So that’s another reason why you would want to have transcripts. Although transcripts aren’t absolutely necessary by WCAG 2. However, they are very helpful in terms of accessibility compliance. And I think the more accessible something is, the more likely people are going to use it, and therefore maybe tell people about it and share it on Twitter, or Facebook, or things like that.
I think probably the best thing to use as an example for this is the Google search benefit and the ability to search within those things. Our transcript is the captions and the text version of the audio description added together.
So [for example], if you’ve have a lot of visual information about fixing a coffee machine or something like that, [all the action] is basically captured on the video and can’t be searched. But as soon as you put the audio descriptions and the captions together as a transcript, then all that can be searched. And so people who are searching for this coffee machine will be able to find that through your transcript.
I think that’s probably the best reason why you’d want to use the accessible video player other than for accessibility.
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