More accessible media players

I don’t know: you wait for ages for an accessible media player, and two turn up (almost) at once.

This is good news for everyone. You’re all smart people, so I don’t need to remind you that accessibility helps people who have disabilities and those who don’t – so, for example, text subtitles help people who can’t hear the audio, whether because they have a hearing impairment, or because they’re in an open plan office with no headphones. Transcripts are helpful for people who can’t see the video, whether because they have a visual impairment, or because they want to be able to skim a video presentation in text.

Anyway, homily over, on to the players.

(cc) meddygarnet on Flickr

The first player is a UK Government one. The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) announced its ODI Accessible Media Player, which:

offers an inclusive online experience for disabled and non-disabled users, whether watching video or listening to a podcast. The player has been tested with people with a range of impairments, and works particularly well for people with learning disabilities. It is the first online media player to pass the RNIB Surf Right accessibility audit.

The player supports:

  • customisable subtitles
  • audio description
  • British Sign Language
  • downloadable PDF transcripts.

They also – perhaps tempting fate – claim that “we believe it must be the most accessible player available for use on the web”.  A few colleagues  have kicked the tyres on it (very informally), and it certainly has some excellent features. But making such a bold – and sweeping! – claim is a little problematic.

Stephen Downes observes that he didn’t see

a way for me to use the player to distribute my own media. So the ‘most accessible media player in the world’ plays exactly six videos. What’s the use of ‘the most accessible media player on the internet’ if people can’t use it?

… although the ODI site does say “if you would like to use the player on your organisation’s website, contact the ODI Communications Team”, so there is a route  to use it, just not necessarily a particularly quick or open one.

(By the way, if you need to know the basics of accessible video, the ODI’s 8-page PDF on Commissioning Accessible Video is worth a look.)

(cc) Ian Sane on Flickr

The second player is the Open University one, currently in development. It’ll be open source (possibly in contrast to the ODI’s one?), and built on the OU’s extensive experience in supporting learners with a wide range of access challenges.

Will Woods mentioned it as an example of agile development, and gave some useful background in the comments to Tony Hirst’s post on the players:

Our wide ranging delivery platforms (both public and for student use) currently deploy a wide range of proprietary and FOSS media players. It is unlikely a single FOSS player will suffice for all needs across all platforms/devices inot the future. However, The OU needs a ‘player strategy and as part of that it needs a reduced set of supported players in order to ensure:
– Minimum levels of IT support (lower cost)
– High levels of user experience consistency (more effective)
– High levels of technical robustness and integration

A small representative OU ‘player team has worked over the last six months to define a broad player strategy and a brief for a new media player (probably based on Flowplayer). This is to be developed/adapted to ensure it represents ‘best of breed’ for a supported open distance educational institution, and so that it can efficiently carry and enhance the brand of the OU. The ‘player’ team believe IET (working is close collaboration with KMI, Open Media and LTS, especially the RAP team) can provide the best support for the development of the FOSS player in a way that is consistent with the broad ‘embedded player’ strategy.

Nick Freear is working away hard on it right now, and has just posted a useful filling-in-of-the-gaps – they hope the player:

  1. Will be an “attractive” player that the average designer/ blogger would be happy to use on their site.
  2. Can be used in a variety of contexts – our Moodle-based virtual learning environment, OpenLearn, OU-Drupal sites, blogs, Cloudworks…
  3. Will deliver content mostly from the OU podcast site in the contexts mentioned above.
  4. Will be accessible to users with disabilities – both in terms of control, and display of alternatives like transcripts and captions.
  5. Usable on a variety of devices, including mobiles and tablets.
  6. Will be delivered in a maintainable way.

I think the team has picked a smart set of technologies to build it with – HTML/Javascript rather than Flash for the interface, and  oEmbed for wide deployment. Nick’s post has more details, but my guess is that – coupled with the explicit aim to deliver an open source project – this player will be more readily taken up by other people who want to show people video in a more accessible way. It’ll certainly be readily taken up by the OU’s systems, which would give a decent-sized catalogue of video.

(cc) Meanest Indian on Flickr

At the moment, of course, the ODI player – with its six videos currently available – wins over the OU player on account of actually existing, rather than being promised in six months’ time.

But who will win in the end? Well, the main issue is for people who want better access to video win by getting it, in full. If that’s via the ODI player, the OU player, jwPlayer, ccPlayer, FlowPlayer, YouTube, or something not invented yet, or (much more likely) some combination … it doesn’t actually matter. Of course, I like the Open University, I like open technologies, and I like and admire the team developing the OU player, so I hope and expect that it’ll do well.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.


Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

8 thoughts on “More accessible media players”

  1. Nick mention feed back welcome but there’s no way to post comments on his blog.

    Anyway Nick said “flash with fall back to HTML5”?
    No no no, should be other way round. Lets embrace the open web not hinder it. Sure it’s in painful flux right now but we’ll be in a much better place eventually through the W3C open standards approach.

    Mhawksey also make good point that accessibility needs backup media like captions and audio description. At least until tech is good enough to create perfect alternatives on the fly

    1. Thanks for posting this feedback – will make sure it finds its way to Nick (if he hasn’t seen it here already).

      I don’t know what the thinking on the HTML5/Flash strategy is, but I’m pretty confident that captions, audio descriptions and transcripts (and how they interact) will be a key part of the spec already.

      1. Hi Steve,

        My apologies. I had disabled comments by mistake 😦 – they’re back on.

        I very much take your point. I’m a big fan of HTML5 and open-source/ standards, and they influence many of my projects, including CloudEngine.

        Two points in response:

        We felt we had to take a pragmatic approach to HTML5 and encoding, based on what the OU’s podcast infrastructure can support, and the capabilities/ maturity of the various codecs. It’s my understanding that it is difficult to seek efficiently within videos encoded using WebM or Ogg Theora – a feature that is very useful.
        A major benefit of the oEmbed service-based approach is that it allows the video/ audio embed code to be modified once by the provider (us/ the podcast site). Depending on cache settings, those modifications are then seen wherever the embed code is used. So, at a later time (hopefully not much later), we can modify the embed to be HTML5 falling back to Flash.

        My feeling is that oEmbed will be useful in helping lots of the big multimedia sites transition to HTML5.

        So, not ideal, but I hope this helps allay your concerns!


  2. This is a really interesting read. Looking forward to seeing the OU player soon.

    We have also been developing an accessible video player and have recently released it as a free download for people to use. We have made it so you can embed it on your own site, play your own videos and also play YouTube video’s through it.

    If you want to take a look, it is available here: We would welcome any feedback or suggestions that would help us improve the player.

    1. Hi Paul,

      This player is very interesting – it looks attractive, does styled captions, and audio description (a number of players out there do one or the other!)

      It says “free download” on your site, but do you mean free/open-source? Would that be interesting for you?

      Also, would you look at things like an API (for Javascript), theming?

      Thanks, Nick

      1. Hi Nick

        It is certainly free to use (under a creative commons license which we need to put more information about on the website) with regards to open source, the code used in the player is not really ready to be open source as it is integrated with a larger code library. This is something we are reviewing.

        We have a basic Javascript API that allows you to access the controls of the player (described in the advanced example in the download).

        The player is still in developement and we hope to release a new version soon that takes on board some of the feedback we have already received. For example multiple language support, bug fixes and better documentation.

        With regards to theming we hope to allow basic colour changing via FlashVars and potentially offer a few different variations on the interface design.

        Drop me an email if you have any more questions, [paulrobinson][@][theworkshop][co][uk] I would love to discuss it further.

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