Access to Videos

This article provides an overview of the issues people may have when accessing videos online, in theaters, and from DVD or Blu-Ray players, and the solutions that have been developed to address these. 

Barriers to Video Access

Videos that include audio content such as dialog provide an obvious barrier to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. What is less obvious is that videos also tend to provide significant content visually; this can be straightforward or subtle (e.g., a character’s eyes or body language may contradict what they are saying). This video information may be inaccessible to people with visual disabilities, and hard to interpret for some people with cognitive disabilities.

The mechanism for playing videos may also provide barriers. Standard remote control devices can be difficult to press, or have buttons that cannot be distinguished by touch. Computer-based video players may not be compatible with assistive technologies or other alternative input solutions.

Captioning and Audio Description

Captioning provides a text equivalent of important information being presented in an auditory fashion. Unlike subtitles used primarily for translation, captioning also provides descriptions of music, animal noises, background noise, noise that may not have a visual equivalent (e.g., “sound of plate smashing in kitchen”), and any other important sounds. It benefits not only people with limited or no hearing, but also people who benefit from multimodal information presentation, beginning readers, ESL students, and anyone in a noisy environment.

There are two types of captioning: open captioning, which is always visible, and closed captioning, which requires use of a decoder. Decoders have been built into all televisions with 13” or larger screens since 1993. Many DVD and Blu-Ray disks include closed captioning as an option.

Rear Window Captioning is a technology that lets captioning users access closed captioning in movie theaters. The captioning is projected onto the back of the theater, and is then reflected onto a panel in front of the user.

Audio description provides a spoken equivalent to information that is only presented visually. It is usually provided when dialog or other significant audio is not occurring. If a primary voice is used for the main audio—e.g., for narrating a documentary—the audio description may deliberately be provided in a contrasting voice. It benefits people with limited or no vision, as well as some people with autism or similar conditions who may appreciate a concrete audio description of visual information, and anyone who needs to be in a different room than that where the video is playing.

DVS Theatrical is a system for providing audio description via headsets to users in movie theaters. A small percentage of DVD and Blu Ray disks include audio description; a list of these is available from the Audio Description Project website.

Assistive Technology Boogie is a short online video that demonstrates excellent use of both captioning and audio description. The National Center on Accessible Media (NCAM) provides useful information on the technical aspects of adding captioning and audio description to videos; the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) provides guidelines on creating appropriate captioning content and audio description content.

Accessible Remote Controls

Several remote controls with alternative designs are available. These include the Accenda, which accepts voice input commands and provides audio feedback, the Jumbo Remote Control, which has oversized, color-coded buttons, the Big Button, which looks similar to a standard remote but has large, backlit buttons, and the Flipper, which has a greatly simplified interface.

Accessible Video Players

To be accessible, video players need to not only support use of captioning and audio description, but also be both operable without requiring mouse use for the benefit of both people with physical disabilities and blind people, and compatible with screen readers so that blind people will be able to identify the controls. There are two primary types of video players that need to be considered:

  • Stand-alone players work independently of a website. Three popular stand-alone players are Windows Media Player, Quicktime, and RealMedia Player.
  • Embedded players allow video to be played directly from a website. The three stand-alone players mentioned above have versions that allow embedding; some sites, such as YouTube, use proprietary embedded players.

WebAIM did a review of player accessibility and found that stand-alone versions of players tended to be significantly more accessible than embedded ones. ConnSENSE provides a summary of ways to make embedded players accessible, including support for captioning/audio description as well as physical access. 

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