August 2015 Issue  Volume 16  Number 8

Emerging Technology

The American Foundation for the Blind Launches an Accessible HTML5 Video Player

Anyone who uses a screen reader on the Web knows the frustration of trying to play streaming videos. If you are fortunate, a link to the content will cause the video to begin streaming when activated. More often, however, the player controls that start the playback of the video are embedded into the page you are currently on. Assuming you can even locate the player controls, the next hurdle you must jump is figuring out what each one does, since these controls are not often labeled in a way that screen readers can make sense of them. Even if you figure out how to use a particular Web player, there is no guarantee that the website won't change the look of the player at some point, forcing you to go through the process all over again. There are examples of easy-to-use video players on the Internet, but they are scattered far and wide.

Thanks to a project recently launched by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Web designers no longer have an excuse for posting videos that are not accessible to the blind. Several years ago, AFB began working on an accessible Web player that would allow blind people to easily play video content on the Web. At the time, Flash-based content was the norm, and this standard presented a lot of problems for screen readers. With the emergence of HTML5, which is proving to be much more accessible to the blind community, there is even more that AFB can do with its accessible player.

Frequently Asked Questions About the AFB Accessible HTML5 Video Player

Crista Earl, AFB Director of Web Operations, has identified some of the most common questions people have about the new player.

The question asked most often is, "Can I use the player for my own personal use?" Earl states that the Web player is not really intended for use by individuals who are surfing the Web and want to play video content. It is designed more for Web administrators who would download the player, paste some code onto their Website, and then give the player a path to the content being streamed. The AFB player can be used in conjunction with other video players, or as a replacement for those other services. The player can handle many different types of video content, including streaming YouTube videos. Imagine a service such as CNN making use of the new player. All video content on that site would be easily navigable by people who are blind. No more hunting for that elusive news story only to give up in frustration after several unsuccessful attempts. Or what about that video clip of your cousin's wedding that you just can't seem to locate on YouTube? Imagine being able to simply jump to the player controls, start playing the video, and rewind a few seconds to replay the punch line of that joke your uncle told.

The second most often-asked question, according to Earl, relates to use of the Player on a WordPress site. Many blind bloggers want to be able to upload videos that can easily be viewed by other blind people as well as sighted visitors to their blog. At this time, the AFB Web player does not work with WordPress, but a WordPress version of the player is on the list of new features to be added in the coming months.

The final question relates to the cost of using the player. AFB is making the player available for free, but donations are most certainly welcome.

Using the Accessible HTML5 Video Player

Taking the AFB HTML5 video player for a test drive couldn't be easier. Simply download the AFB Accessible Player to get started. Along with a .zip file containing the Web player for developers, you can find a video of Crista Earl talking about the player. Low vision users can expand the video to full screen if they choose to do so. Video controls can be navigated with a mouse, with the keyboard using clearly labeled buttons, and with keyboard commands that vary from browser to browser.

Using the AFB Accessible HTML5 Video Player with Safari On a Mac

I first used the video player on my Mac with Safari as my Web browser. I played the included video first using the player controls with VoiceOver commands. I was easily able to locate the Play/Pause, Fast Forward, Rewind, and Stop buttons with no difficulty. All controls worked as expected. I then used keyboard commands to play the video. Each button contained a help tag that told me which keyboard command to use. Control + P plays and pauses the video, while Control + X stops video playback. Control + W allowed me to fast forward through the video, and Control + Q allowed me to rewind the video. A clearly labeled progress indicator told me how far into the video I was, and updated itself in real time. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I have ever been able to successfully fast forward and rewind through streaming video content on the Web. The response of the player was instantaneous with regard to all commands issued, especially the fast forward and rewind commands.

Using the AFB Accessible HTML5 Video Player with an iPhone

As with my experience on the Mac, I found the Web player controls to be easy to locate and navigate using my iPhone's on-screen keyboard. I was able to play and pause the sample video with no problem, but I was not able to rewind or fast forward through the content using the clearly labeled buttons. I found myself taken back to the start of the video when pressing the play button after trying to fast forward or rewind through the content. I was, however, able to use the progress picker to move through the video forward and backward by percentage. As was the case with my Mac, I was able to easily locate the progress indicator.

Using the AFB Accessible HTML5 Video Player on a Windows PC

For my final test of the AFB accessible Web player, I moved to my desktop computer running Windows 7 and Internet Explorer version 11. I tested the player using JAWS 16 as well as the latest version of NVDA, but I see no reason why the player wouldn't run under all the current Windows screen readers. As with the Mac, all player controls were well labeled in Internet Explorer, and there were access keys available for each control as well. Alt + P paused/played the video, Alt + X stopped video playback, Alt + Q rewound the video, and Alt + W moved me quickly through the content. I found the player to be just as responsive on the Windows platform as it was on the Mac, and, once again, I was able to view the progress of the currently playing video with no difficulty.

The Bottom Line

AFB has released an excellent tool for making streaming video content readily accessible to everyone who uses the Internet, whether they are fully sighted, have partial vision, or are totally blind. More enhancements are planned for the player in the coming months, including support for closed captioning. Now, all that is needed is for Web designers to download the AFB Accessible Player and required software, read the instructions, and begin implementing accessible streaming video content on their sites. Kudos to AFB for a job well done.

Product Information

Product Name: Accessible HTML5 Video Player
Developer: The American Foundation for the Blind
Price: Free

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