508 Accessible Videos – Use a 508-Compliant Video Player

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When you watch a video on your computer, the window that displays your video is called a “video player.” It usually has start, pause, and other buttons. You might not be aware that you’re using a player at all—you just watch your video.

A fully-accessible video player (e.g. Section 508-compliant) can be used by a person with disabilities, including, for example, someone who may be paralyzed and can’t use a mouse.

The specific types of video players and their requirements can be very technical and confusing. If you need help, talk to your webmaster, your IT department, or a Section 508 expert at your agency.

Requirements of Accessible Video Players

Video players on federal government sites must support three requirements to be considered 508-compliant:

  1. Accessible features like captioning and audio descriptions (for deaf or blind users)
  2. Keyboard navigable features (for users who have difficulty operating a mouse)
  3. Speech recognition (for those not using a keyboard or a mouse). For example, a person could say, “Click play,” and the video would play.

Common Features of Accessible Video Players

As of June 2014, the current standards for Section 508, as written by the U.S. Access Board, do not give specific requirements for 508-compliant media players. Two good guides to follow are the Software Applications and Operating Systems guidelines and the Web-based application standards. Some of the commonly requested features include:

  • Adjustable font size or caption colors
  • Closed captions
  • Adjustable contrast for captions (captions must be on a visible background—no white text on a white or grey background)
  • Support for keyboard-only and assistive devices for captions, page navigation, labels, and controls
  • Voice-activated capability for those who can’t use a keyboard or mouse
  • Support for screen readers and magnifiers, for those with low or no vision
  • Ability to turn on/off audio descriptions
  • Volume up/volume down

Visit the Described and Captioned Media Project website for a complete list of updated features.

Embedded vs. Stand-Alone Video Players

There are two basic options to play online video:

  1. An embedded player that works with your Web browser, or
  2. A stand-alone software option that you download or install; it plays outside your Web browser.

1. Browser Embedded Players

Video sharing sites, such as YouTube, in addition to the wide distribution of Adobe Flash (video playing component) on personal computing devices, have made embedded players very popular. Browser embedded players are built into Web pages, generally with Adobe Flash, Microsoft’s Silverlight, or HTML5. Videos displayed by these code-based players can be “shared” or embedded in other Web pages. The accessibility of embedded players varies.

While many embedded players support Timed Text and other caption formats, few also support audio descriptions or have accessible player controls. Examples of popular players are JWPlayer, FlowPlayer, and ccPlayer.

2. Stand-Alone Software

Stand-alone video players are separate programs that operate outside the Web browser. Stand-alone players have several advantages concerning accessibility:

  • Captions and player controls are standardized for the player (users don’t have to re-learn controls for each new player as they would with embedded players).
  • Stand-alone video players may have more features.
  • A user can view online and locally stored media, while an embedded player is generally used for online media.

Examples of stand-alone software video players include iTunes, Windows Media Player, QuickTime, and VLC.

List of 508-Compliant Video Players

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Caption: The Workshop’s video player (above) supports captions and audio description tracks, and can be used with many assistive devices, with a few exceptions. This video player on NASA’s site supports captions and plays YouTube videos.

While platforms like YouTube or Blogger, and some content management systems, have players built into them, if you’re creating or maintaining your own website, you’ll have to pick a player.

Some of the video players commonly used by federal government agencies are:

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