The “Most Accessible Media Player on the Web”?

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of tweets (maybe RTs of @ODIgovuk?) alerted me to the release of the ODI (HMG’s Office for Disability Issues) (flash based – how accessible is that?!*) accessible media player (see the player), which “supports customisable subtitles, audio description, British Sign Language, downloadable PDF transcripts”. In support of its credentials, the host website sports the RNIB’s Surf Right badge of approval.

*Ah: “Built in Flash, it provides full keyboard support for people who can’t use a mouse, is extremely well labelled, making all of it’s functions clear to screen reader users, and for those who don’t have Flash in their browsers, provides the same information in alternative formats.”

On hearing the announcement, my first thought was to ask whether or not anyone had let JISC know, for example by sending a press release at least to JISC TechDis, JISC’s advisory service on technology and inclusion, but I think that was probably taking the hope of joined-up-ness a step too far…;-)

I’ve not had a chance to play with the ODI player probably yet, nor am I sure what I should look for in terms of what makes this a properly accessible media player, so if you know of a review anywhere, please add a link in the comments…

Anyway, today, at the bottom of post (Are waterfalls agile?) from Will Woods, one of the few “in-the-loop” folk in the OU who seems to blog hints at least about planned OU tech innovation, I saw this:

We’ve just started a venture to develop the OU Media Player for example which is going to create ‘the worlds’ most accessible media player’. It’s built using existing services but we’ll add the value to make it provide captioning and accessibility services and to link to all OU media materials on a variety of platforms including the VLE. This is a very small team working over the next five months in an agile way. I’ve got 100% confidence in it’s success because it’s a great team, everyone understands how important it is tot he OU and they’re being given the freedom to build it iteratively, creatively and well, i.e. serving the OU’s mission in being “open and accessible”.

Useful… But just out of interest, how will it differ from the ODI’s “most accessible player available on the web”, and is there a critique from the OU perspective of the ODI player available anywhere?

PS Will’s post also picks up on a recent Computer Weekly interview with new OU CIO David Matthewman, which I don’t think I’ve blogged a link to before, but is worth a read. No mention of a skunkworks team I heard mooted at one point, though… unlike the “right to skunkworks” teams that the Cabinet Office seems keen to chase: Cabinet Offfice Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Update, January 2001 [pdf]: “1.12(v) Announce new open standards and procurement rules for ICT, including right for skunk works to be involved prior to launch of procurement [Not complete]”

PPS This post got me thinking, trivially, about the accessibility of the iPad: my gut reaction, lack of tactile feedback might make it inaccessible… Apparently not – see for example the RNIB media release when the iPad first came out. Folks in IET at the OU apparently also did a favourable evaluation review (hence (as @liamgh put it) the OU mention in this iPad advert?), though I’m not sure it’s on the web anywhere… (Thinks: with the OU taking on various national roles, might the release/publication of accessibility reviews (aka accessibility consumer reports?) relating to new technology, particularly in an educational context, be an appropriate Big Society kind of thing to do?;-)


  1. willwoods

    Hi Tony,
    To answer your question the ODI’s player is one of the ones we’ve looked at and Nick has the full list of players that have been explored. I think that the answer is partly in the question. Being ‘flash based’ in itself may cause access issues and IMHO the ODI’s player uses to much screen real estate for the buttons and sliders – what we’re building is described by Andrew Law thus…

    “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.

    The outcome should be a new FOSS media player developed to work consistently with the broader player strategy.”

  2. willwoods

    I’ll ask Nick to write a blog post about it so that it’s made public. Stuart Brown and Ben Hawkridge have done research and are advising/assisting this project so they may also give you information too. Chetz Colwell has done accessibility reviews of players and also iPad accessibility which I know you’ve asked about also so it’s worth contacting her directly about specifics of what she has discovered.

  3. Martin Hawksey

    What makes the the ODI player (or any other player accessible)? Keyboard access, closed captions, linking to additional resources are all achievable with a lot of the other players. So often the main factor isn’t the accessibility of the player, but the range of resources (captions, transcript etc) used to make your media accessible.

    [BTW I wonder if JISC TechDis would like to contribute/support the OU player (which they might if open source)]


  4. Pingback: More accessible media players « Doug Clow's Imaginatively-Titled Blog
  5. Nick Freear

    Hi All,

    Thank you for the blog post Tony, and mentions of the OU media player project. I have written a blog post which hopefully fills in some gaps.

    Specifically on the ODI player, we haven’t done a formal evaluation of it, though I put it in the design brief for our project. I have tried it on Windows and Mac, keyboard-only and with the NVDA screen reader. It’s accessible, and I’d say that they have pushed Flash to the limit to achieve this. However, its unclear how third parties could use it, adapt it (eg. increase the video size in the overall player), re-brand it and so on.

    The OU player will re-use open-source components and libraries where possible (Flowplayer are a preferred candidate – you can browse the source/ documentation online ;)), and a major aim is to use an oEmbed service-based approach, which will give us the freedom to modify the player efficiently.

    @Mhawksey. Good point, we will be improving the accessibility of the content as we develop the player ;). And yes, we should probably talk to TechDis.

    Thanks all, Nick