My Audio Description Talk @ CSUN

At CSUN 2017 I opened the conference on Wednesday morning with a presentation on audio description. The purpose of my presentation was to muse about how organizations with large quantities of videos might meet Success Criterion 1.2.5 of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0:

1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded): Audio description provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media. (Level AA)

The purpose of audio description is to ensure that visual content is accessible to people who can't see it. In some cases the information is sufficiently communicated via the program audio. However, when that isn't the case, a supplemental audio track must be provided that includes brief description of the visual content.

The WCAG 2.0 accompanying recommendations for How To Meet SC 1.2.5 includes several "Sufficient Techniques" for accomplishing this, all of which focus on providing a second, user-selectable, audio track or movie that has human-narrated audio descriptions mixed in.

The recommendations also include an "Advisory Technique", Using the track element to provide audio descriptions. This is the technique supported within HTML5, using the <track> element with kind="descriptions" (more on this below). This is presumably an "Advisory Technique" because it isn't well supported yet by media players. However, I'm convinced that this technique has merit and is more scalable than any of the "Sufficient Techniques" for describing tens of thousands of videos, which is the scale of the problem at most universities.

In my presentation at CSUN, and in this follow-up blog post, I took a closer look at the two methods.

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New! Now!

This website now has a Now page. You can access it any time from the main menu, or simply follow this link: Now. Previously this site had a Projects page, but I like the immediacy of Now. It's more zen; more agile.

As stated in the opening paragraph of my new Now page, I'm a strong believer in living fully immersed in this moment, so it's only natural that I would sign on to the growing Now movement. And it is indeed a movement. Derek Sivers (I think) posted the first Now page in October 2015. And others followed. Derek now hosts a large and growing index of sites with Now pages at, including my own (see Terrill Thompson on nownownow).

In this moment, I'm breathing, thinking, and writing the content that you now are reading. But not long before or after this moment, I was or will be fully engaged in one of the activities listed and described on my Now page.

What are you doing now?

Making America Great by Doing Good

Donald Trump wants to "Make America Great Again". I doubt that anyone can dispute that this is a noble goal. But what does "great" mean when referring to a country or nation state?

I'm afraid Donald Trump's definition of "great" doesn't mesh with mine and I wouldn't want to be associated with his vision, so unfortunately I won't be wearing one of those cool red hats.

Red cap with text on the front: Make America Great Again

For Trump, a "great" America is a country that's white, wealthy, and male-dominated (although served by stereotypically beautiful females), aggressively asserting its dominance over the rest of the world. In Trump's America, "great" is measured exclusively by wealth and power.

For me, a Great America is a country that is respected worldwide for its innovation. We grow by creating, not destroying.

A Great America is diverse, a "melting pot", that effectively utilizes the diverse ideas that come from a rich variety of perspectives and experiences. The growth and success that comes from this diversity is shared among all participants, not just a few white men at the top.

A Great America is compassionate. It's a country that has attained enlightenment but uses that to help others attain enlightenment as well. A Great America understands that it is greatest if the entire world is great. Anytime you have one great country and lots of other not-so-great countries, you have a recipe for resentment, conflict, and terrorism.

So, how can we make America great again?

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Accessible Language Pickers: a11y meets i18n/l10n

Helena Zubkow and Mike Herchel published a great article recently comparing the U.S. Presidential candidates websites on accessibility. That article points out several features (both good and bad) that affect accessibility for some visitors to their sites. There's one feature in particular that I want to expand upon since it's been on my mind lately. Hillary Clinton's site ( is available in both English and Spanish, and there's a link in the main menu that takes users from one site to the other. (It's no surprise that Donald Trump doesn't have a Spanish version since he's the guy who wants to build un muro).

Anyway, I've developed an interest in how best to code a menu of languages, as in a language picker for translated versions of a website. Hillary's site provides an interesting example of why this matters. On the main menu bar at the top of her English website, she has a link to "ES" which targets the Spanish version.

Screen shot of menu bar from Hillary's English website, which includes an ES link

Why "ES", rather than "Español"? I'd be curious to know the thinking behind that decision. In contrast, the link from the Spanish site back to the English site says "English", not just "EN".

Screen shot of menu bar from Hillary's Spanish website, which includes an English link

For screen reader users, it's important for web developers to identify the language of the page so multilingual screen readers know how to pronounce the words they're reading. Hillary's sites as a whole are coded properly: The English site has lang="en" on the <html> element, and the Spanish site has lang="es".

It's also important though to identify the language of foreign language text within the body of a web page. Otherwise screen readers will pronounce the foreign words using the rules of the main language of the page, which at best makes the screen reader sound silly, and at worse is indecipherable. In Hillary's case, if she had used Español as the link text for switching to the Spanish site, she would need to specify in the code that Español is a Spanish word, like so:

<a href="/es/" lang="es">Español</a>

Of course, she doesn't really need to do this since "ES" isn't a word at all. However, she should do it on the Spanish version, where the word "English" is not correctly tagged, therefore is pronounced by screen readers in a thick Spanish accent. Here's how it should be tagged:

<a href="/" lang="en">English</a>

What about unpronounceable languages?

This is the issue that has brought me to ponder this topic. Able Player, the accessible media player I've developed with help from the open source community, supports subtitles in any language, and users can browse a list of available languages and choose the one they need. On the DO-IT Video website, which is running Able Player, some of our videos have been translated into Chinese (simplified and traditional), French, Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese as part of the DO-IT Translation Project. When subtitles are available for any of these languages, they appear in a menu that pops up when users click the CC button.

To me, it seems reasonable to list the languages in their native language rather than in English since the reader might be unable to read English. (Would you English readers recognize "English" if it appeared as "イングレス" on a Japanese website?)

As for Hillary's using "ES", that's the two-character ISO 639-1 code for Español—all major languages have one. But how many web users know their ISO 639-1 code? Maybe all Spanish-speaking people understand that an "ES" link is intended for them, but in case there are a few who don't, I think spelling it out makes more sense.

But what if a language picker includes multiple languages, including some not supported by users' screen readers? If we list the languages in their native language rather than English (e.g., 日本語) how will screen readers handle this?

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Links from IAAP Accessible Media Player Webinar

On Tuesday May 31, Ken Petri of Ohio State University and I are giving a webinar titled What Makes a Video Player Accessible?, hosted by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).

If you're reading this before the event, I hope you can make it. Follow the above link to register.

If you're reading this after the event, I hope you were able to attend. And if not, I'm sorry you missed it.

In either case, our webinar slide deck includes a number of links to a variety of resources related to media player accessibility. In order to make those easy to access I've extracted them all here: