Media players and assistive technology interoperability

  • Author: Robert Pearson
  • Date: 8 Oct 2012

As we continue to examine the accessibility of the media player and how the content within it can be displayed in an inclusive manner, it's important to consider how assistive technology interoperability can further ensure the accessibility of that content.

Assistive technologies can accomplish the provision of accessibility, even when it may not be fully enabled within the player itself — either because of non-compliant coding techniques or within the content being displayed.

As long as minimum coding guidelines have been considered in the implementation of a media player, a speech-enabled assistive technology such as VoiceOver on iOS systems, will be able to navigate the player controls and other aspects of the content through common navigation techniques. The content itself may not have been developed with captions or audio description for full accessibility compliancy, but given these minimum techniques, the content becomes accessible to users of these technologies.

That group of users though, will likely not be representative of all users who require accessibility, nor those who do not require any, but who could still benefit from well-coded, captioned and described media player content. Therefore if considering to develop a player to meet only minimum coding standards, accessibility compliancy and inclusion in the consumption of the content being displayed cannot be assured when depending solely on assistive technology interoperability. Having this interoperability in place however, does allow for initial considerations of accessibility in this regard.

When beginning to develop an accessible media player, one development step will work towards another when working to ensure compliancy. Correct coding techniques will allow for assistive technology interoperability, even with common-use pre-designed media players such as an embedded YouTube player.

By using common navigation techniques and keyboard navigation, in conjunction with a speech enabled assistive technology, a user may tab through elements that can obtain focus, such as the play, stop and pause buttons, to gain access to the media being displayed. As with all common browsing technologies though, the means by which navigation may occur and how content is displayed can vary over different platforms and operating systems and due to any limitations with any hardware or software being used for these tasks.

The uncertainty that exists when depending upon minimum coding techniques and the belief that those users who require assistive technologies will be in possession of them and that they will be able to utilise the interoperability that they offer, is significant and is not a solution for ensuring accessibility and inclusion. By utilising proper coding techniques in conjunction with assistive technology interoperability, it’s possible to begin to ensure multi-platform accessibility in conjunction with ensuring the accessibility of the content itself.

This is the second article in a four-part series on the accessibility of media players by Robert Pearson, Director of Accessible Digital Media at Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), based in Toronto, Canada. He is also Chair of the Canadian broadcasting industry's Described Video Best Practices (DVBP) Working Group, striving towards the establishment of industry best practices in the area of audio description, known as described video in Canada.

View the whole series: