Wistia’s Video Player Just Got More Accessible

January 14, 2020

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Jessie Angell Carlson


Despite efforts to improve web accessibility, the Internet can be a less-than-friendly place for people with disabilities. In fact, according to a 2016 Pew Research Study, in America alone, out of the 56 million people with disabilities, only 40% feel comfortable using the Internet. As a web-based software platform, we want to do everything we can to make the Internet a friendlier place by empowering you to provide more accessible video experiences on your own site.

That’s why we’re super excited to announce updates to our player and our app to help make videos more accessible for everyone. These updates align with WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines and offer a better, more accessible experience across all devices. Plus, we’ve made it super easy to make accessibility part of your workflow, with an in-app checklist that walks you through how to add things like captions, audio descriptions, and thumbnail alt text — while maintaining your brand’s look and feel. Let’s look at how we got here and the details around how our player is changing.

A more thoughtful, inclusive player

Our player is not only a connection to our customers, but to our customers’ customers, too. That’s why we think so deeply about all of the details of our player and why — when we discovered our player wasn’t accessible and difficult to use for some folks — we decided to make some changes.

Updating our player’s appearance

First, we increased the opacity of the control buttons and eliminated the transparency of the progress bar. These changes might seem subtle, but they will make a big difference in the experience for those with limited or low vision. Plus, our new default player is designed to work well with screen readers and other assistive tools right out of the gate.

Making accessibility part of your brand

Another change we made was increasing the player’s color contrast. Doing so makes the controls easier to identify for people with low vision. But, oftentimes these high-contrast color combinations are jarring — easier to see, but not necessarily pleasing to look at. That’s why we designed our high-contrast color-picker to do both: offer on-brand, visually appealing high-contrast color combinations that align with WCAG AA 2.1 guidelines and deliver an optimal viewing experience.

“We designed our high-contrast color-picker to offer on-brand, visually appealing high-contrast color combinations that align with WCAG AA 2.1 guidelines.”

Enabling captions and audio descriptions

One important aspect of accessibility is having the ability to add captions and audio descriptions to your videos. Captions are an easy way to increase accessibility for everyone — from folks with hearing loss to commuters on a loud train and for people whose native language is not the one used in the video. Everyone benefits from the addition of captions to video — having a text version of your video content on your site can give you a much-appreciated SEO boost as well.

When it comes to web accessibility for video, audio descriptions are super important because they describe key visual information that’s not included in the audio track. With these in-app updates, you can now add both audio descriptions and captions to your single video file — without needing to create duplicate video assets.

Advantages of one asset for captions and audio descriptions

When it came to creating a more inclusive experience for viewers and allowing our users to maintain their brand integrity, we weren’t willing to compromise. If we sacrificed the video experience to incorporate accessibility features, brands would hesitate to adopt the new standards, and we wouldn’t realize our goal of more accessible videos for everyone. One of the ways we worked to make accessibility easier to adopt is allowing for the addition of audio descriptions and captions on a single file. Why does that matter? So glad you asked!

Other accessibility solutions require a separate video file for audio descriptions, which can lead to some pretty tricky questions like:

  • Where do you embed or display the two separate files?
  • Do viewers of the file with audio descriptions have the same experience as those without?
  • Can brands realistically develop and host multiple versions of every video they create?
“Instead of making our customers create and embed multiple videos or link to another video in the alt text, we wanted to provide the capability to add both in one file.”

Instead of making our customers create and embed multiple videos or link to another video in the alt text, we wanted to provide the capability to add both in one file. For us, inclusivity means offering the same, or very similar, experience to all viewers of the video. Achieving our accessibility goal meant we had to make it a sustainable (and easy!) process for our customers.

An in-app checklist to make accessibility part of your workflow

We feel accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought. That’s why we built an easy-to-use checklist right in the app to make accessibility a seamless part of your workflow. Now, on every video, under “Customize,” you’ll find a comprehensive list of accessibility features to apply, with each one turning green once you’ve completed the action. Aligned with WCAG AA 2.1 guidelines, all of the features* can be enabled right from the checklist, making your accessibility efforts streamlined and visible to everyone on your team. Plus, we’ve included tips and best practices to help your videos reach their highest accessibility potential.

*Audio description and caption files must be provided.

Jessie Angell Carlson


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