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Making streaming video inclusive

Updated: 9 May 2022 for AccessU

This blog article supplements the talk Making Streaming Video Inclusive, created with my colleagues Carolina Crespo and Charu Pandhi of TPGi and delivered at CSUN 2022 and AccessU 2022. The idea for this talk came from an extensive client audit we participated in: Testing a streaming video application across multiple platforms and devices. With what we have learned, we aim to contribute to best practices for creating inclusive streaming video experiences.

Who's watching? screen with five profiles
Select a profile screen

The state of steaming video

As of February 2022, 77% of global viewing time for video is spent watching on demand content: source.

Global viewing time for video
Type of videoTime spent watching
Live TV23%
On demand video77%
Pie chart showing people watch on demand content 77% of the time and live content 23% Live TV: 23.0 % On demand video: 77.0 %

In 2021, 78% of US consumers had a video on demand subscription. That’s a 50% increase in the number of subscribers over the last six years: source.

US consumers with a streaming video subscription
YearUS Consumers
201652%
201764%
201869%
201974%
202078%
202178%
Bar chart showing the years 2016 to 2021 as the percentage of US consumers with a streaming video service increased from 52% to 78% US Consumers 52% 64% 69% 74% 78% 78% 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 0 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%

Demand for streaming video services is not only growing, it’s here to stay as more and more providers enter the market each day. But how accessible is this flood of new apps?

Case study: discovery+

Our team had the opportunity to test the discovery+ streaming video app across multiple devices to explore the differences in implementation and the support for assistive technology built into the platforms.

We used the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 AA success criteria as guideposts for our review since separate guidelines for mobile accessibility are not yet available. Based on what we encountered during accessibility testing, we comprised a list of the top 10 accessibility concerns focused on the application UI—issues that impede disabled people from completing common user journeys:

  • Sign in
  • Explore what is available
  • Select a show to watch
  • Add and remove shows to/from My List
  • Start watching

Top 10 app UI accessibility concerns

  1. Controls need to have an accessible name and an appropriate role.
  2. Provide a visible focus indicator on interactive controls.
  3. Ensure app works with multiple input modes: screen reader, remote, voice input, external keyboard.
  4. Notifications should be announced to all users.
  5. Control focus under actions.
  6. Grouped controls needs a name.
  7. Announce the number of items in a group.
  8. Provide sufficient color contrast between the text and the background (image). 
  9. App should support zooming and resizing text.
  10. Do not restrict the device to only one orientation.

Accessible content

While our research focused on the functional accessibility of the app, an app is only as accessible as the content it provides. You can have the most intuitive, well-designed interface for finding streaming video content but fail to provide appropriate alternative content for disabled users. Let’s look at three content-related considerations.

Captions

Captions are required on streaming content in the US by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 and other laws. Streaming companies like Netflix went through litigation for not providing captions. All video content we encountered on the discovery+ app had closed captions and controls for turning them on or off.

While captions are now standard and expected by consumers, they are not all the same. Captions must be of high quality and accurate to be useful and provide an accessible experience. Autocaptions that are not reviewed and edited are rarely good enough on their own.

We should also consider other user needs for accessible captions and ways we can enable users to control their captioning experience. Consider providing caption settings where users can control the color, font, size and position of captions and subtitles.

Audio description

Audio description is a separate audio track for video content that describes what is occurring on screen including text overlays and important actions. Like captions, users need accessible controls for enabling the audio description track.

None of the videos we encountered on the discovery+ app had audio descriptions, which is not uncommon but does exclude users who are blind or low vision. Companies are now engaged in legal action over audio description including a settlement between the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and Hulu; and structured negotiations between ACB and Netflix as well as ACB and WarnerMedia (HBO Max).

ACB runs the Audio Description Project that has a searchable database of audio described titles by streaming service.

Voice input

Voice input is a means of controlling the application with voice commands. Only two of the devices we tested support voice input and neither was capable of fully controlling the discovery+ app. This is due to a mix of what the platform supports and what the application supports. To the extent available, we recommend implementing voice support in streaming video applications. Voice input aids in navigating the application as well as making on-screen data entry easier, such as a natural language query to search for content.

Accessibility testing

We included five devices and platforms in this review:

Apple TV

Screen reader: VoiceOver on iOS

A small, square Apple TV console next to an Apple TV remote with a track pad and an Bluetooth keyboard.
Apple TV console, remote with track pad and Bluetooth keyboard

Apple TV findings
  • Profile buttons do not have accessible names or roles that distinguish them.
  • Notifications when a show is added or removed to or from a list are not announced.
  • Carousels lack names.
RuleStatus
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesFail
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPass
3. Support multiple input modesPass
4. Announce notificationsFail
5. Focus managementPass
6. Control groups have namesFail
7. Groups announce number of itemsPass
8. Text color contrastFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textPass
10. Allow both screen orientationsN/A

Android phone

Screen reader: TalkBack on Android OS

A smartphone next to a Bluetooth keyboard
Samsung Galaxy S20 and a Bluetooth keyboard
Android findings
  • “Add to My List” and “Remove from My List” controls are missing the button role and accessible names.
  • Episode selector does not announce the number of items in the control, the button role or selected state.
  • Most player controls do not have proper accessible names and roles.
RuleStatus
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesFail
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPass
3. Support multiple input modesPass
4. Announce notificationsPass
5. Focus managementPass
6. Control groups have namesFail
7. Groups announce number of itemsFail
8. Text color contrastFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textPass
10. Allow both screen orientationsFail

Fire TV

Screen reader: VoiceView on Fire OS

Fire TV stick and remote next to a Bluetooth keyboard
Fire TV stick and remote with a Bluetooth keyboard

Fire TV findings
  • Profile buttons do not have accessible names that distinguish them.
  • Tabbed navigation and carousels do not announce the number of items in the group. Episodes announce n of -1.
  • Shows do not announce their titles which are displayed as images.
RuleStatus
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesFail
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPass
3. Support multiple input modesPass
4. Announce notificationsPass
5. Focus managementPass
6. Control groups have namesPass
7. Groups announce number of itemsFail
8. Text color contrastFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textPass
10. Allow both screen orientationsN/A

Samsung TV

Screen reader: Voice Guide on Tizen

Samsung 42" TV and remote next to a Bluetooth keyboard
Samsung TV and remote with a Bluetooth keyboard

Samsung TV findings
  • Sign In form does not provide audible feedback for input typed with a Bluetooth keyboard.
  • Low color contrast between text and background images.
  • Episodes don’t announce the episode number.
RuleStatus
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesPass
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPass
3. Support multiple input modesPass
4. Announce notificationsPass
5. Focus managementPass
6. Control groups have namesPass
7. Groups announce number of itemsPass
8. Text color contrastFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textFail
10. Allow both screen orientationsN/A

Xbox

Screen reader: Narrator on Xbox software system

White Xbox console and controller
Xbox console and controller

Xbox findings
  • Content is grouped, group label is announced, Tabbed navigation announces the number of items in the group, for example 3 of 10.
  • Visual notifications are not announced.
  • Regular text does not have sufficient contrast with its background.
RuleStatus
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesPass
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPass
3. Support multiple input modesPass
4. Announce notificationsFail
5. Focus managementPass
6. Control groups have namesPass
7. Groups announce number of itemsPass
8. Text color contrastFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textPass
10. Allow both screen orientationsN/A

Overall findings

Every platform tested had issues, with Samsung TV and Xbox having the most accessibility support and Apple TV and Android having the least.

RuleApple TVAndroidFire TVSamsungXbox
1. Controls have accessible names/rolesFailFailFailPassPass
2. Focus indicator on interactive controlsPassPassPassPassPass
3. Support multiple input modesPassPassPassPassPass
4. Announce notificationsFailPassPassPassFail
5. Focus managementPassPassPassPassPass
6. Control groups have namesFailFailPassPassPass
7. Groups announce number of itemsPassFailFailPassPass
8. Text color contrast FailFailFailFailFail
9. Support zooming/resizing textPassPassPassFailPass
10. Allow both screen orientationsN/AFailN/AN/AN/A

Conclusion

This article represents data for a single app only and we encourage the community to research other applications across additional platforms and devices to add to the body of knowledge. Our goal was to surface specific accessibility issues that have a critical impact on a user’s ability to navigate the journey from signing in to watching a show. We hope this creates visibility and awareness of the effects from not testing for, and fixing, accessibility issues in streaming video applications and helps inform the pool of best practices for inclusive streaming experiences.

4 web server rules you need today

This post uses Apache examples but I’ve also provided links to Nginx documentation as these two web servers account for about two-thirds of websites at the time of this post. The concepts are similar between web servers with variance in syntax and location of web server rules.

Not sure which web server your site is running? Check this web server utility.

colorful feather logo of Apache web server

What are web server rules?

Web server rules are instructions for the web server, directing it what to do with requests to your website like loading an image, redirecting a URL, denying access to content and serving error messages.

We’ll be reviewing the following web server rules:

  1. Redirect a single page request
  2. Redirect from one file path to another
  3. Turn off directory browsing
  4. Add custom error pages

Apache web server rules live in an .htaccess file located in the website’s root directory. If an .htaccess file doesn’t already exist, you can create one using a code editor and upload it to your web server. The file must start with the . character and does not have a file extension.

Web servers respond to each browser request with a code. The most common response is a 200 which means the request is successful and the web server responds by serving up the requested content like an HTML page, image or CSS file. Each rule starts on a new line.

You can see the total number of requests each webpage makes by opening developer tools in your browser (F12) and looking at the “Network” tab as you request a URL.

screen shot of the network tab in Firefox developer tools displaying 6 200 responses to content requested for a page on domain racheleditullio.com
Network tab in Firefox developer tools

Redirect a single page request

Web server Redirect rules generally respond with either 301 (permanent redirect) or 302 (temporary redirect). The following redirect rule returns a 302 response to the browser:

Redirect 302 /story-slides/index.html /talks/

Instead of loading the requested URL https://racheleditullio.com/story-slides/, the web server redirects automatically to https://racheleditullio.com/talks/.

Network tab in developer tools displaying a 302 response to domain request racheleditullio.com and the 200 response after redirect.
302 redirect from one page to another

How To Create Temporary and Permanent Redirects with Nginx

NOTE: 301 permanent redirects get cached by the browser and can be very hard to clear. Always create and test 302 redirects, changing to 301 once you’ve tested the rule is working correctly.

Redirect from one file path to another

What if you want to redirect all requests for a site or directory? When I consolidated my blog with this website, I set up the following RewriteRule rule on the old domain:

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://racheleditullio.com/blog/$1 [R=302,NC,L]

Requests for posts on the old domain are sent to the new-domain/blog/the-requested-file-path/.

Example: https://www.fishyux.com/blog/2016/03/twitter-adds-alt-text-authoring-for-some-users/

Network tab in developer tools displaying a 302 response to domain request www.fishyux.com and the 200 response after redirect.
302 redirect from old domain to new domain

Creating NGINX Rewrite Rules

Turn off directory browsing

Any website directory that doesn’t load a default web page may list its contents instead. Have you tried going to your images directory? You might see something like this:

a default directory listing of image files
Files in the /images directory

Add this directive to your .htaccess file and the server will block directory browsing:

Options -Indexes

The browser now returns a 403 code, access to the requested resource is forbidden.

Web page and network tab in developer tools displaying a 403 response
403 browser response

Nginx – Disable directory listing

Add custom error pages

Web servers are setup with default error pages for some response codes like 403 and 404. Give your site that finishing touch with custom error pages. Add a directive for each error code you want to customize:

ErrorDocument 404 /404/

Include the response code and the page that should load instead.

Example: https://accessibleweb.net/foo/

Web page and network tab in developer tools displaying a 404 response - page not found
Custom 404 error page on accessibleweb.net

How To Create Custom 404 Page in NGINX

Have any questions or comments? Hit me up on Twitter.

What do you mean by disabled?

A truck engine bay with most of the engine torn out.

For much of the 20th century and into the 21st, society largely dictated what “disabled” meant. We were told we were disabled; that we were broken; that we didn’t matter because we weren’t whole. “Disabled” in this context is clearly used as an adjective to describe that state of a person: You’re disabled.

Indeed, if we search the dictionary for disabled, the first result is the adjective form: impaired or limited by a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition : affected by disability.

As a backlash to being told we were non-functional—the medical model and ableist view of disability—some people switched to person-first language. It was thought that if you center the person instead of their disability, we were respecting people with disabilities. In short, the opposite proved to be true. The concept of disability became clouded; some people, like members of the Deaf community, don’t view their condition as disabling. For others, disability is an important part of self-identification and that got lost.

In the last few years, this has led to the disabled community taking back the word “disabled” to describe themselves, but with one very important distinction: the word is no longer used as an adjective but in its other form as a verb.

If we search the dictionary for disable, we note that its past participle is “disabled.” This is the basis for the passive voice instead of an adjective in the sentence, “I’m disabled.” We know it’s passive voice because you can add “by zombies” to the end. But passive voice has the annoying habit of obscuring the real actor.

I’m disabled by society and the built environment.

Rachele DiTullio

It’s important that those outside the disability community understand what we mean when we use “disabled” versus what they might mean. I encourage you to let them know you are fine just as you are. You are not disabled as in broken. You are forced to live in a world that disables you through intentional action, by not making society inclusive and accessible.

What do you think? Adjective or verb? Let me know on Twitter.